A 3-month-old girl abducted Sept. 5 was found safe yesterday afternoon in a center for teen-age mothers in Washington, where the young woman accused of kidnapping the baby had gone to seek shelter, Baltimore police said.
FBI agents arrested Shanekqa Johnson, 17, and charged her as an adult with kidnapping. City police -- who suspect the young woman took the child to reunite with her estranged boyfriend -- said she is expected to face charges in Maryland today.
"I'm just so thankful that the baby is fine," said Lt. Larry Leeson, head of Baltimore's robbery and sex offense unit, which investigates kidnapping allegations.
Yesterday afternoon, police detectives drove the baby's mother, Tahaisha Williams, 20, to an FBI field office in Washington, where she was reunited with her daughter, Tahsine Williams. The infant was evaluated at a hospital and was expected to be home in Baltimore last night.
The last infant abduction occurred in Baltimore in 1989, when a woman dressed as a nurse kidnapped a 2-day-old boy from a nursery at Sinai Hospital. The woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Yesterday's recovery ends a frantic eight-day search by local and federal authorities who pursued leads in Philadelphia and Silver Spring, looked for friends and family members and traced a telephone call Miss Johnson made to a friend Tuesday.
And police had just finished interviews for the syndicated television program "America's Most Wanted," which was to air the segment Saturday and include appeals from the infant's mother and the suspect's sister.
"The scenario is unbelievable," Lieutenant Leeson said. "She was telling people she was pregnant by her boyfriend as far back as April. She gained considerable weight to make people believe she was pregnant."
Lieutenant Leeson said the suspect even was planning a baby shower. "We believe she kidnapped this baby to convince her ex-boyfriend that it was his child and he's a proud daddy and that they should get back together," the lieutenant said.
Just minutes before FBI agents made their arrest, the child's mother sat in her sparse living room in Dumfries Court, a Westport public housing complex, and tearfully pleaded for her daughter's safe return.
"My kids are my life," said Ms. Williams, a mother of two. "Why is [the suspect] doing this? Does she think she can get a daughter by stealing my child?"
Ms. Williams said even her 1-year-old son, Jamall, noticed his sister was missing. "He says, 'Baby gone, baby gone,' " the young mother said. "That's my child and I want her back. Safe."
About 12:30 p.m., FBI agents walked into Sasha Bruce Youthwork Inc. in Northeast Washington and found Tahsine and the suspect, who center officials said contacted them Monday.
"She told us she was 19, from New York, had a boy and didn't know where else to go," said Vera Johnson-Bowlding, the center's associate director. "I told her we were at capacity, but we would try to help her."
The days of anguish for Ms. Williams began with a simple bus ride. She met a woman who identified herself as Darleisha and played with the baby as they rode to Northern Parkway and McClean Boulevard in North Baltimore.
Ms. Williams said they talked about childbirth, husbands and boy friends. "I was trying to make a new friend," she said.
They then took a taxi downtown to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where Ms. Williams said the suspect, who was holding Tahsine, jumped out of the cab and promised to return shortly. After 20 minutes, Ms. Williams called police.
The suspect was spotted Friday leaving an apartment in the 400 block of N. Montford Ave., where she lived with her sister, carrying a child in a shoulder harness, police said.
On Saturday, Miss Johnson brought the baby back to her sister's rowhouse and tried to pass the infant off as her own, according to the sister, Natasha Gibson, 23.
"I think that she was pregnant," Ms. Gibson said. "I think she lost her baby, and in an attempt to get back with her boyfriend, said she had a child."
Ms. Gibson said she wondered how her sister got the baby. "It was too developed to be a newborn," she said, adding that she planned to investigate the next day but that her sister left before she woke up.
On Tuesday, police said the suspect called a friend, who could hear a child crying in the background.
The suspect next showed up in Washington. Ms. Johnson-Bowlding said caseworkers had placed Miss Johnson in temporary housing as they checked out her story.
"She was giving us information, but it wasn't adding up," Ms. Johnson-Bowlding said. "We thought something wasn't right."
For example, caseworkers said Miss Johnson told them the infant was a boy, kept the child bundled up and was secretive while changing diapers. City police said social workers grew suspicious when Miss Johnson filled a bottle with powdered milk instead of baby formula.
Yesterday, center officials contacted the Virginia-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which was working with Baltimore police. It contacted the FBI.
"She seemed loving and caring," Ms. Johnson-Bowlding said. "It didn't seem she would harm the baby in any way. One of our mottoes is that we don't turn kids away. We tried to help her, and this whole thing got resolved."