Authorities think a 19-year-old woman was already following Lidia Juarez on Monday when the opportunity arose to snatch Juarez's 1-month-old baby from her car as it idled in a North Charleston post office parking lot.
Investigators on Wednesday charged Andrea Samone Walker of Goose Creek with kidnapping Angel Miguel Perez.
She was being held without bond in the Charleston County Detention Center.
At a bail hearing Wednesday, Angel's mother urged Charleston County magistrate Linda Lombard to deny bail for Walker.
Speaking through an interpreter, Juarez said Walker had made her and her family suffer the pain of not knowing where her baby was, and she feared that if Walker were released from jail, she might do the same thing to another family.
Walker wiped a tear from her eye as the hearing was getting started. When Lombard asked for her address, she said, "I don't really have an address."
Walker told Lombard she's been staying with her aunt in Goose Creek
and works at a fast-food restaurant.
Lombard ran through Walker's arrest record, including juvenile court convictions in 2006 for unlawful carrying of a weapon and grand larceny. In 2008, Walker was charged with receiving stolen goods and unlawful use of a license plate. Those charges are still pending.
Citing the serious and egregious nature of the crime, Lombard ordered Walker be held without bail.
On Tuesday police had set up phone banks and offered a reward to anyone who might have a tip that would help locate the baby. The tip lines were flooded with callers Tuesday evening.
With the help of two tips, police said they found Walker with the infant at a Summerville apartment complex about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, setting up an emotional reunion with the baby and his parents at the Medical University Hospital, where the child was given a clean bill of health.
"It was definitely one of the most inspirational things I've seen in 20 years," North Charleston Police Deputy Chief Reggie Burgess said about handing the child over to his mother. "The father, the mother and the baby: They just hugged each other in like a circle hug."
Spencer Pryor, North Charleston Police public information officer, said it appears that at some point Walker observed Juarez and the baby as they were running errands and started following them.
"We know that when the victim arrived at the post office the suspect saw the opportunity where the victim exited the vehicle without her child," he said. "The suspect at this point was able to enter the victim's car, remove the child from the car seat and then fled the area."
Pryor said they started receiving numerous calls Tuesday. Two tips in particular, with information about the baby and the suspect, helped break the case. One of the callers told police where they could find the suspect and the baby.
"They were pretty adamant that this was the child," Pryor said.
Police responded to the Grove Apartment Complex on Midland Parkway in Summerville within minutes of the call. They found the baby with Walker and took her into custody. Two others in the apartment were not charged, Pryor said.
It will be up to the FBI to determine if one or both of the callers will be eligible to collect the $20,000 reward that was put up yesterday for information leading to the prosecution of a suspect.
Pryor declined to release more details because the investigation is still active and detectives were still trying to determine some of the details themselves.
Local, state and federal law enforcement officials were downright giddy at a late-morning press conference. Mayor Keith Summey coddled the baby throughout the event while Thomas Metz, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Columbia, presented the family with gifts for the baby, including a stuffed FBI rabbit, an FBI shirt and an FBI blanket.
"Hopefully, this will help Baby Perez sleep well at night," Metz said.
Juarez and her husband, smiling broadly after looking so listless a day earlier, made a short statement through a translator. "Thank you everybody for the help returning the baby," a translator said over the baby's shouts. "That's it."
When a reporter asked her later, in Spanish, how it felt to have her baby back, Juarez said, "feliz" -- happy.
Pryor declined to answer questions about whether Juarez faces possible charges for leaving the child unattended in the car.
"We're going to concentrate on this happy reunion right now," he said.
Authorities said the investigation was a result of police work at its best. North Charleston police, Summerville police, the Charleston County and Dorchester County sheriff's offices, the FBI, State Law Enforcement Division and the 1st Circuit Solicitor's office all contributed, they said.
Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589 or email@example.com