Missing toddler found safe in southwest Houston; suspect sought

January 13, 2012 4:00:58 PM PST
A young boy is safe after he was taken along with the family's SUV from a southwest Houston Walmart Thursday evening. The toddler was found early Friday morning by an alert restaurant owner who heard about the abduction on the news.

The toddler is expected to be OK, but investigators say their focus is now on finding the suspect because they believe he might have been targeting that boy and his young cousin.

It was the happy ending Evan Montgomery Lamar Miller's family had been praying for all night. Eyewitness News spoke exclusively with his great great aunt as she and Evan were being wheeled into the hospital.

"Everything is good. Everything worked out," said Debra O'Neil, the baby's great great aunt. "God is good. Thank you, God. We're just grateful."

Little Evan, safely in his great great aunt's arms, being checked out at the local hospital. It ended a harrowing 15-hour ordeal that began at a southwest Houston Walmart on Thursday evening.

Evan's mom had left Evan and his 7-year-old female cousin inside the parked and running Jeep while she ran in to use the ATM at a Walmart on S. Gessner. That's when police say this man seen in surveillance video approached the car and tried to grab the cousin.

"He attempted to grab her. She was able to get away and flee inside," said HPD Capt. David Gott.

But Evan was still in his car seat in the Jeep. A statewide Amber Alert was issued Thursday night and a massive hunt for Evan and the suspect ensued, but it wasn't until after 8am Friday morning when a restaurant owner went behind the back of his restaurant in the 8200 block W. Bellfort near S. Gessner that a breakthrough was made.

"I was just rolling into work, you heard it was a green Jeep missing, but then it started coming to me. Sometimes you hear the news and you're not really looking, but then it's all happening and you put it together," said Terron Henry, owner of Cool Runnings restaurant. "In the back, we saw the Jeep, the green Jeep, and usually there's not enough space for a vehicle."

Henry first saw the truck, then looked inside and saw Evan, and called 911.

"I opened up the door and I shook the baby because I thought he was probably dead from the cold or something and that's when he kind of cried out. I grabbed him, took him back to the restaurant and then the fire department came and got him," said Henry.

A father of three himself, Henry says he never expected to find a baby behind his restaurant, but today he's glad he did.

"I've got a 14-month-old at home... and we play every night, we play every day," said Henry. "So I just can imagine the feeling they're going to have being able to do that with their baby once more. I'm happy the baby is OK. That's all that matters right now."

Authorities believe little Evan was left in the car overnight outside the strip center about three blocks or so from the Walmart.

After he was found, the Amber Alert was canceled and the little boy was quickly whisked away to Texas Children's Hospital. Family members told Eyewitness News he's a bit cold, but otherwise alright.

Now the tougher job is that police are asking everyone to look closely at these surveillance images, hoping someone will recognize the man who they say is a predator.

"The impression is it was an abduction, so you assume the car was not the primary target," said Capt. Gott.

Investigators say that is why they are so concerned about locating the suspect.

"The surveillance photos from the Walmart store depict the vehicle fleeing the scene, heading east out to South Gessner and turning north and fleeing on South Gessner," said Detective Mike Burrow with the Houston Police Department. "We also have on the surveillance video of several possible witnesses that were no longer at the scene when we arrived. We are trying to locate those witnesses. There were two females that were coming out of the store, one of whom appeared to be struck by the Jeep as it left the parking lot. There is also a possible good Samaritan that appeared to be a black male in a hooded sweatshirt that was in the parking lot, possibly tried to stop the vehicle as it was leaving. He was no longer here and we need him to come forward."

A sketch of the suspect was released Friday morning. Authorities gave a description of the suspect as a middle aged black male, late 30s early 40s, clean shaven face, approximately 6-foot-1, 180 to 210 pounds. He was dressed in a black leather jacket, blue jeans with black driver's hat. It's unknown if he arrived at the store on foot or in another vehicle.

Anyone with information regarding the suspect is asked to immediately call the Houston Police Department at 713-308-3600.

There is no word yet on whether the boy's mother will face any charges.

Today happens to be National Amber Alert Awareness Day. The program is named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington in 1996.

Currently, every state in the U.S. has an Amber Alert plan. Authorities can issue local Amber Alerts and the Department of Public Safety can issue state-wide Amber Alerts. In Texas, there have been 75 statewide alerts since 2002, and 82 missing children have been recovered safe.