A man has been arrested after a nine-year-old girl who disappeared from a family camping trip at a remote country park in New York was found “safe and in good health” inside a cabinet after a mammoth two-day search.
Charlotte Sena disappeared while riding her bike early on Saturday evening at Moreau Lake State Park, a heavily wooded area in upstate New York.
Governor Kathy Hochul announced at a Monday night news conference that police were able to find the schoolgirl after identifying a fingerprint from a ransom note allegedly left by the suspect, whom she identified as 47-year-old Craig Nelson Ross Jr.
“What happened was extraordinary,” she said.
While Charlotte’s family remained at the campsite where she had gone missing, police watching their home saw someone drop a note in their mailbox at 4.20 am on Monday, said Gov Hochul.
State police pulled fingerprints off the note and the second one matched Ross, who was in a database from a 1999 driving offence case, she added.
Police linked Ross to a property owned by his mother, made entry and found him in a campervan at about 6.30 pm, she said.
“After some resistance, the suspect was taken into custody and immediately the little girl was found in a cabinet,” Gov Hochul said.
“She knew she was being rescued. She knew that she was in safe hands.”
Charlotte was taken to a local hospital as a precaution, but Gov Hochul added that she appeared physically unharmed and that she and her family have been reunited.
Ross was still being questioned on Monday night, Gov Hochul said. No charges had been brought against Ross, but they were expected.
Authorities said it was still an active investigation.
Charlotte’s disappearance on Saturday sparked a intense search for her, including around 400 people including forest rangers, police officers and firefighters and expanding over nearly 50 miles.
Charlotte, from nearby Greenfield, had been riding her bike around a campsite loop in the 6,000 acre park with other children when she decided to ride around one more time by herself.
The extensive search for Charlotte Sena continues. The search, which is being led by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers includes 400 certified search and rescue personnel. Thank you to those working to bring Charlotte home! pic.twitter.com/xSi4aiT2CC
— NewYorkStatePolice (@nyspolice) October 2, 2023
Her parents became alarmed when she failed to return after 15 minutes, Gov Hochul said at a briefing Sunday, describing the events as “every parent’s nightmare”.
The girl’s mother called 911 after her bicycle was found around 6.45pm on Saturday.
Officials issued an Amber Alert on Sunday morning after an exhaustive search because “it was quite possible that an abduction had taken place,” state police Lt Colonel Richard Mazzone said.
The girl’s family pleaded with the public for help in finding Charlotte, including providing any tips to the state police.
“We just want her returned safely like any parent would,” the family said in a statement earlier Monday. “No tip is too small, please call if you know anything at all.”
Troopers had set up several checkpoints on the winding, rural roads around the park. They stopped drivers and asked if they knew the family, had seen the girl’s photo or had any other information that could help the search. They also had some drivers open their trunks.
The park remained closed because of the search, and officials asked members of the public who showed up hoping to help to stay away and leave the search to professionals.
Federal authorities also issued a temporary flight restriction over the park for the safety of law enforcement air operations.