Published August 15, 2002
ABILENE, Texas – The 1-month-old baby snatched from a minivan in a Wal-Mart parking lot was reunited with her mother and family during an emotional press conference Wednesday evening.
A former prison guard, who fooled her family into believing she had given birth, was charged in the incident with aggravated kidnapping.
"I don't have sufficient words to say thanks, and I ask God that he blesses each one of you. God bless America," Salvador Chavez, 42, said Wednesday evening as he stood behind his wife, who was cradling their baby.
Infant Nancy Crystal Chavez was taken from the family's minivan Tuesday afternoon when her mother turned around to stow a shopping cart. She was found unharmed Wednesday in Quanah, a town about 125 miles north of Abilene.
As she was carried into the Abilene police station in a baby carrier, about three dozen residents and Police Department employees applauded and cheered.
The child's mother Margarita Chavez, 28, who held and rocked the baby gently during a news conference, said she always had hope that little Nancy would be returned safely.
"I praise the Lord. I'm so thankful all of the FBI people work hard trying to find my baby," she said tearfully. Her arms were bandaged and her face scratched and bruised, injuries she sustained after being dragged by a car 30 feet while trying to stop her baby's kidnapper.
The suspect, 24-year-old Paula Lynn Roach, and Roach's mother and the baby were pulled over Wednesday in Quanah by Hardeman County authorities who received a tip from employees at a nursing home where Roach had gone to show off the infant.
Sheriff Randy Akers said when he stopped a teal Chevrolet Lumina carrying them, he determined the baby was not a newborn. He took the baby and asked the women to follow him to the Sheriff's Department, where Roach eventually confessed, he said.
Texas Ranger David Hullum said Roach told officers she hadn't planned the abduction.
"When we told her it wasn't her baby, her response was, `Where's my baby?"' Hullum said. "She was having a hard time letting the baby go."
Roach's mother, who was not implicated or charged, apparently believed the infant was her granddaughter. The car belonged to Roach's mother.
Paula Roach's brother, Terry, told The Associated Press in Quanah that the baby had been fed every two hours and her diapers changed throughout the night. "I thought it was my niece," the 23-year-old said.
He said the family learned Wednesday that Paula Roach suffered a miscarriage in December. He also said his sister hasn't been the same since their father died in March 2001.
"To the family, we are sorry for any hurt that was caused to them," he said. "If they knew her before she had this problem, they would know she would not do something like this."
Roach was jailed Wednesday night in Abilene on $200,000 bond. Taylor County District Attorney James Eidson said Roach could face between five to 99 years or life in prison if convicted.
Abilene Police Chief Melvin Martin said he doesn't know what Margarita Chavez could have done to prevent the crime.
"In this particular case, when you have someone with that mindset to take a child right in front of the mother, I don't know if we have an answer to that," Martin said.
Police said Roach recently worked at an Abilene convenience store. Hullum said Roach had lived in Quanah, where she apparently planned to stay and raise the baby.
People in Quanah said Roach, described as overweight, led people to believe she was pregnant.
James Duke, warden at the Robertson prison unit in Abilene, told the AP that Roach worked as a corrections officer on the overnight shift for about 20 months. She resigned in September 2000.
Duke said officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice were notified about Roach's identity after she was taken into custody.
Margarita Chavez said she had just finished shopping about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when she placed her three children -- Nancy and a 3- and a 6-year-old -- in her minivan.
The mother stepped about 10 feet away to return a shopping cart, then saw a woman removing the infant and car seat, which had not been fastened to the seat.
"I yelled, 'That's my baby -- don't take my baby,' but she run ... then I tried to pull her hair or something through the window. ... I was hanging on the window and I couldn't hold anymore so I fall," Margarita Chavez said Wednesday, her arms still bandaged and her face scratched and bruised.
Roberto Gann, 13, heard Chavez's screams and smashed into the passenger side of the fleeing car, possibly breaking the window. The Chavez family thanked him Wednesday at the news conference, and he held the baby for several minutes.
"It made me feel bad that I didn't get her, but I'm glad somebody did," Gann said.
It the first statewide Amber Alert issued since Gov. Rick Perry announced the creation of the statewide system Monday.
The alert, implemented over the next 30 days, is designed to help find abducted children by transmitting the information to television and radio stations and on Texas Department of Transportation electronic highway signs.
Abilene is about 170 miles west of Dallas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.