A 17-year-old boy who was kidnapped this month in California and whose captors asked his mother to deliver a half-million-dollar ransom in Mexico has been found safe and three Hispanic men arrested in connection with the incident, authorities said.
The minor, who was not identified by authorities, was abducted Sept. 18 in San Bernardino County. He was found Friday at a motel in Santa Maria, a city more than 200 miles away.
For days, his mother received a series of disturbing calls and text messages from cell phone numbers in Mexico demanding money, while threatening to cut off parts of her son's body if she did not comply.
The teen was driving through Highland when subjects caused him to crash his car into a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to documents reviewed by ABC Los Angeles.
An image showing the motel located in Santa Maria where they got the kidnapped young man in San Bernardino, California.NBC Los Angeles
A neighbor heard a loud bang outside his home and then reviewed his surveillance camera footage. The witness said he saw two men pull the victim out of his vehicle, put her in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and fled.
After an intense operation, three Hispanic men are in federal custody and have been charged with kidnapping. They were identified as Fidel Jesus Patino Jaimes, 22; Jair Tomas Ramos Dominguez, 26; and Ezequiel Felix Lopez, 27.
Prosecutors said the three suspects told law enforcement they were from Santa Maria, the city where they found the shaved youth.
A half-million-dollar ransom
On the afternoon of September 18, the boy's mother received a phone call from a Mexican number where someone demanded that she hand over half a million dollars in Nogales, Mexico, to guarantee her son's return.
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He then received a video of his son reading a script in which he said the kidnapping was his father's fault, for an incident that occurred in New York. According to an affidavit, the kidnappers forced the teen to say his "father knew what he had stolen."
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She then received more calls threatening to cut off parts of her son's body if she didn't make the payment. Later, they reduced the ransom to $100,000.
"It was hell, as you can imagine it would be for any parent who has to go through something like this," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in an interview with NBC Los Angeles. "
"Knowing that your child has been kidnapped. Knowing that your child is being held back by people with bad intentions. And to know that those people threaten to physically harm you unless you pay them a huge ransom."
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FBI agents, along with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department and the Santa Maria Police Department, located the alleged kidnappers on a Motel 6 nickname in Santa Maria.
The raid that led to the rescue
On September 20, FBI agents located a phone number associated with the vehicle used in the incident, which had been listed for sale on Facebook Marketplace. GPS data from the number, provided to investigators by a phone company, helped locate the phone user.
According to the complaint, the FBI obtained a court order that allowed the use of a sophisticated device called a cell phone placement simulator, a surveillance tool that mimics a cell phone tower, causing nearby phones to register in the simulator. When phones are connected to the device, researchers can locate where a particular phone is located.
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The FBI then located the phone at the Santa Maria motel and conducted surveillance from outside the room where the suspect's device was located. The next morning, authorities executed a search warrant.
Agents from the FBI Los Angeles Field Office's SWAT team entered the motel room Sept. 22 through the door and adjacent windows. They rescued the teen and detained the suspects, who were armed, a law enforcement source told ABC Los Angeles.
The young man was unharmed and was taken to his family. The three men are expected to appear Monday before a U.S. District Court judge in downtown Los Angeles.
If convicted of the federal kidnapping charges, they could face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
With information from NBC Los Angeles, CBS Los Angeles and ABC Los Angeles