ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The desperate search for a missing 3-year-old girl ended in an empty Albuquerque parking lot, after an alert police officer decided to investigate a “ball of purple” he saw in the lot at 1 a.m. on Sunday.
A body camera recorded the moment when the officer discovered the girl, who was crying and cold. She had gone missing when thieves stole the car she was sitting in.
The girl’s discovery ended hours of searching.
It all started around 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Police say the girl’s mother was filling up water jugs when a thief jumped in the car and drove off with it. 3-year-old Caraline Leon-Alcocar was inside the car.
The vehicle was later found by officers, but the little girl was not in it which sparked an Amber Alert and a citywide search.
Officer Chris Poccia found little Caraline. Officer Poccia says when he looked in the parking lot he noticed something strange on the ground.
“I was using my spotlight and I saw a ball of purple, in the middle of the parking lot and I thought that’s weird and I drove into the parking lot and I could tell it was a kiddo,” said Poccia.
On his lapel camera recording you can hear him say, “Hi sweetheart, you okay? Come here, come here, I know, come here.”
Caraline was crying, cold and by herself, but okay otherwise. Poccia scooped up the little girl and put her in his cruiser to warm her up.
Poccia had been searching with the motorcycle group Guardians of the Children. When he found her, you could hear them celebrating on the recording. They comforted her while they waited for the ambulance to get there.
“Some of the Guardians were already kinda converged on my car, were talking with her, putting her jackets on her and stuff, we could tell that she was cold,” Poccia said.
Caraline was reunited with her mother in the parking lot, then taken to the hospital to be checked out. She is expected to be okay. Officers say she didn’t say much at the hospital, but she was content watching a Disney movie.
Officer Poccia, a father of three, was calm in the moment, but says the emotion hit him later that night.
“I’ll be honest, on my way home, I started crying too, I was just very happy and thankful that we were able to find her,” said Poccia.
Officer Poccia says he doesn’t consider himself a hero. He says finding Caraline was a group effort.
“It’s the days that we live for,” said Poccia.
After Caraline was found, searchers at the parking lot also discovered a small wooden cross sitting on the ground. It was taken to the hospital, where Caraline’s mother confirmed it was her daughter’s. She said it was given to the little girl earlier on Saturday by her grandmother.
The man who took Caraline in the first place has not been found by police.
“I can’t even imagine what the animal who did this was even thinking,” Poccia said.
“I think there’s a feeling that the guy’s a real scumbag for doing that. I mean, I don’t know what he was thinking or doing but I know he left her, just abandoned the child on the side of the road,” said Albuquerque Police Department Spokesman Simon Drobik.
Police are looking for two men in connection with the theft.