CARACAS, Venezuela – As the desperate effort by authorities to find Wilson Ramos has stepped into high gear, his fellow Venezuelans and baseball fans worldwide were wishing for a safe outcome for the rookie catcher.
Investigators are going full throttle to track down Ramos, the rookie catcher for the Washington Nationals, and the armed kidnappers who snatched him from his home Wednesday. The Venezuelan police department – El Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalíticas, or the CICPC – has said it is confident they can solve the case.
President Hugo Chávez's government, too, said it is making headway in the search. Deputy Justice Minister Edwin Rojas says investigators are making progress in gathering evidence and have physical descriptions of his abductors based on the accounts of relatives.
Rojas tells state television that President Hugo Chavez's government "is working 24 hours a day to solve this case."
On Thursday, the sport-utility vehicle used by the kidnappers to take Ramos was recovered. The Chevrolet Captiva 2007, which is being examined by authorities, was stolen in Valencia, authorities said.
The kidnappers tried to burn the SUV to do away with any lingering evidence.
Based on family accounts, the CICPC is piecing together information about the four kidnappers. It has developed sketches of the suspects.
Authorities are building their case just a day after unfounded rumors spread that Ramos had been killed.
The kidnappers, meanwhile, have remained silent.
"The abductors haven't made contact with the family or with anyone," said Domingo Alvarez, vice president of the Venezuelan Professional League. "We're worried."
Major League Baseball and Nationals' investigators are chipping in.
"Our foremost concern is with Wilson Ramos and his family and our thoughts are with them at this time," the league and team said in a joint statement.
Beyond the investigation, Venezuelans and baseball fans, balancing uneasy feelings of dread and hope, held candlelight vigils and collectively cried for Ramos' safe return. Some prayed at Ramos' house in Maracay, Aragua.
Venezuelan baseball players wore green ribbons to show their support for Ramos' family. Before a game Thursday night, the players had a moment of silence for the kidnapped player.
A billboard posted at the "Alfonso Chico Carrasquel" stadium. "'Liberen a Wilson' – Free Wilson – the sign read.
Venezuela police said 618 kidnappings were reported in 2009, and the numbers have grown rapidly in recent years.
Jennifer Barreto-Leyva is a freelance writer in Venezuela.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.