A manhunt continued Thursday for the man who kidnapped baseball matriarch Violet R. Ripken, as Aberdeen police released a surveillance video image of a suspect and several law-enforcement agencies joined the small-town force in the search.
But even as investigators held out hope for a break in the case, they acknowledged that the bizarre circumstances could make it more difficult to crack. Ripken, 74, was abducted from her garage Tuesday morning and disappeared for a day before being returned unharmed, according to police, who say they have not determined a motive.
A video image released Thursday shows a man police are calling a suspect, wearing an orange baseball cap and a white dress shirt as he stands in what appears to be a place of business. The suspect was described as a white man in his mid-30s to mid-40s, about 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds. He has short brown hair and wore glasses, police said.
The kidnapper is armed and should be considered dangerous, police said.
"It puts a face out there," Aberdeen police Lt. Fred Budnick said of the video. "We're hoping someone recognizes the guy and we hope it will be a turning point in the investigation."
FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely, who heads the Baltimore field office that is assisting in the investigation, said video surveillance photos can be significant assets to an investigation. "We stand a much better chance of catching the subject," he said.
But he also said there may not be a "quick turnaround."
Authorities describe a harrowing 24 hours for Ripken, wife of late Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. and the mother of Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken. The kidnapper tied up Vi Ripken and drove her around Central Maryland in her own vehicle before she was returned in the car to her neighborhood early Wednesday.
Police also released an image of Ripken's vehicle, a 1998 Lincoln Town Car, which was discovered by a neighbor near the 400 block of Clover St.
Police revealed little else about the case, including where the surveillance video was taken. No ransom was believed to be involved, according to police, and a neighbor said Vi Ripken indicated that her famous last name never came up during the abduction.
Fred Ripken, another son of Vi Ripken, visited Aberdeen police headquarters Thursday. He said he was there to provide a statement to police and declined to comment further as he climbed into the driver's seat of a green Chevrolet pickup. Other family members would not comment beyond a statement issued Wednesday, expressing relief at Vi Ripken's return and thanking the police working the case.
The circumstances of Ripken's abduction and return home have puzzled many observers. McFeely said the crime was unusual for investigators as well.
"This is not something we see," he said. "Hopefully there are forensics that might come out of the vehicle that might be a clue. That's the sort of stuff they're dwelling on right now. But it's not going to be a quick victory."
Budnick said the Aberdeen Police Department handles a range of crimes, but violence is rare for the sleepy Harford County city. Murders occur about once a year — sometimes less frequently. In his 32 years on the force, he said, he couldn't recall a kidnapping at gunpoint.
"I've been around long enough to know that this is highly unusual," Budnick said.
Still, Budnick said the department is well equipped to handle the case. He said the agency has a canine unit, bike patrols, criminal investigators, crime-scene experts and a SWAT team, among other police resources. He added that the agency has the help of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, the Maryland State Police and the FBI.
A neighbor, Erik Snyder, said Wednesday that he had alerted police to Ripken, who waved a white sweater out the driver's-seat window about 6 a.m. that morning. Police, stationed at the back of Ripken's house, were setting up barricades to section off the streets near her home of 46 years. Snyder said Ripken's car was out of the officers' line of sight.
"At that point in time we weren't sure what we were dealing with," Budnick said.
Mike Hudson, who lives across the street from Ripken with his daughter and mother, called the incident "shocking." Hudson said police came to his home and asked a few questions.
Hudson said he tried to imagine if it had been his daughter in Ripken's situation. He believes his mother will want to get some sort of alarm or security system after this incident.
"When you know somebody, it makes it a little more real," he said.
City Councilman Bruce Garner said what happened to Ripken doesn't necessarily reflect on the residents' safety. "I think we are in real good shape," he said of the city's crime prevention efforts.
City Councilwoman Ruth Elliott, a former schoolmate of Ripken's, said she was relieved Ripken was not harmed.
"You have all kinds of people in this world. You don't know what your next-door neighbor might be," Elliott said. "It can happen anywhere. I was alarmed that it happened here, but I know what the real world is. It's nothing any locality can do to prevent it beforehand. It's just the way it is."
"We will find him," Elliott added. "We will get him."