Cal Ripken Jr. calls mother's kidnapping 'worst feeling'

As soon as Cal Ripken Jr. found out his mother was missing, he jumped in his car and set out to find her himself.

The Orioles' "Iron Man" got a call from his sister, Elly, about 9 p.m. July 24 saying that someone spotted a car bearing Violet Ripken's license plates with a woman tied up in the back seat. The police were asking: Did the Ripkens know where their 74-year-old mother was?

"It was the worst feeling you could imagine," Ripken said Friday, drumming his fingers on a tabletop and pausing to avoid breaking down in front of reporters and television cameras gathered at Camden Yards to hear him speak out about his mother's abduction and mysterious return.

"We couldn't find Mom. … I actually physically got in the car and drove around out there," the Hall of Fame infielder continued. "It's like finding a needle in a haystack, but it made me feel like I was doing something. I think we were hardening ourselves to the worst possibility. I know I was."

Ripken, dressed in a dark suit and a buttoned-down shirt, said he was uncomfortable and reluctant to recount the trauma of the ordeal but that he felt compelled to urge the public to help solve the case.

Aberdeen Deputy Police Chief Stephen Smith said his department continues to investigate leads in the case and was analyzing evidence collected from Violet Ripken's 1998 Lincoln Town Car, in which the kidnapper drove her around Central Maryland for about 24 hours. Police expected more tips to roll in after Cal Ripken's appearance.

"There's been a continuing, ongoing investigation," Smith said.

Violet Ripken — most people call her Vi — was abducted at gunpoint from the garage of her modest Aberdeen home, where she's lived for 46 years and raised four children with her late husband, former Orioles managerCal Ripken Sr.She was returned uninjured, left in her car about 100 yards from her home.

Evidence suggests the man responsible may have planned the crime, Ripken said. Items used to tie his mother up were found at her home, a white vinyl contemporary-style house with black shutters and a rear-facing garage along a tree-lined street. Neighbors said Vi Ripken's morning routine included going outside to pick up her newspaper or driving to get a cup of coffee.

"Obviously there was thought given to it, the materials used to bind her were brought there," Ripken said. "There's a lot of evidence that shows that there was somewhat of a plan. It had to be premeditated."

Ripken said he and his family, like police, are struggling to figure out the abductor's motive. Adult kidnappings are rare, but they often involve robbery. Police have not said whether the man involved took Vi Ripken's credit cards or cash.

"It's bizarre on many levels and it's unsettling on many levels," he said. "It's strange, to say the least."

Ripken said he didn't know whether his mother, or the family, was targeted.

"It's quite possible it could have been a random act," Ripken said. "It's quite possible it could have been more than that. … We really just don't know why."

The abductor did not talk much to his mother during her 24-hour ordeal, but Ripken said he treated her "civilly" and checked on her regularly.

About 8 p.m. July 24, someone saw Vi Ripken's car, with her restrained in the back seat, near Ebenezer Road in eastern Baltimore County. The person became suspicious, noted the car's license plate and called police.

Ripken said the abduction has caused the entire family to rethink security. He said his mother has not been staying in her home, but she is continuing to take part in activities she enjoys, such as attending a granddaughter's softball game and visiting a beauty salon.

Ripken stressed that he's been more focused on being thankful for his mother's safe return than on police making a quick arrest. He said he hopes for the case will be resolved and encouraged anyone who might have information that could lead to the kidnapper to come forward.

"Law enforcement needs your help," he said. "Call in and report what you know."

The Aberdeen Police Department released a composite sketch of the man they are seeking and a 35-second video that shows him shopping at a Walmart in Glen Burnie. Police will not provide information on any purchase the man might have made at the store, Lt. Fred Budnick said.

The sketch was posted on billboards throughout the region, including on Interstate 95 north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel and on Interstate 83 south of Cold Spring Lane, Budnick said.

The man is believed to be white, in his mid-30s to mid-40s, with short brown hair and glasses, police said. He is about 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs roughly 180 pounds. Law enforcement officials revealed no other new information Friday.

A little after 6 a.m. on July 25, about a day after his mother had been abducted, Ripken said, he received a call from police that she had been located near her house. When the family was reunited, the situation was "overly emotional," Ripken said.

"When she was … brought back, all those emotions we were storing and hardening ourselves against kind of came out," he said. "It was a horrible night."