The Georgia teen was found safe and sound, but her headline-grabbing abduction still doesn’t add up. Christine Pelisek on what we know so far.
The abduction of Georgia teen Ayvani Perez was so shocking that it made national headlines—two armed intruders burst into her home in the middle of the night, abducted the 14-year-old, and demanded a $10,000 ransom for her return.
It also made headlines, in part, because it was so unusual. Home abductions by strangers, as the case appeared to be, are relatively rare, experts say. Even more rare, though fortunate: Perez was found alive and returned home some 36 hours after she was kidnapped. “She is home and safe,” Clayton County Police Sgt. Kevin Hughes announced Wednesday to the relief of the small community of Ellenwood, about 10 miles southeast of Atlanta.
Now, reports indicate that Perez’s case may not have been as rare as it seemed. News reports have linked the girl’s mother, Maria Magdalena Corral, with one of the suspects in Ayvani’s disappearance. The two were apparently arrested together in 2012 in a marijuana-trafficking bust.
The alleged connection is just one of several mysteries left unsolved.
Law-enforcement officials stress that their investigation is still under way. “I’m not sure of her criminal past,” Hughes said of Ayvani’s mother. “Our concern was getting the young lady home safely to her family, and with the help of federal and state authorities, we did just that.”
The manhunt for the young Perez, which included over 150 federal, state, and county law-enforcement officers, ended on Wednesday afternoon with the arrests of 29-year-old Wildrego Jackson, a career thug with a long laundry list of felonies that include assault, cocaine possession, child cruelty, stalking, and attempted burglary, and 40-year-old Juan Alberto Contreras-Rodriguez, the Mexican national who has been linked to Corral.
As it stands now, Jackson faces conspiracy to commit kidnapping and Rodriguez is currently being held on immigration charges.
It’s unclear what role the two men played in the kidnapping. On Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that they were still on the hunt for more suspects, including the two men who actually pulled off the early-morning abduction of the ninth grader.
Law enforcement say they can’t yet say why the gunmen broke into the home, why she was kidnapped and kept by at least four men, or how they ended up finding her in a “residence” in the nearby city of Conyers, located 24 miles east of Atlanta.
“We have not determined the motive at this point,” said Rick Maxwell, assistant special agent in charge from the FBI’s Atlanta office, at a Wednesday-afternoon press conference.
Home abductions are relatively rare says Dr. Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist and consultant to the Phoenix Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit.
“As strange as it may sound, you must first rule out what role, if any, the alleged victim may have had in the offense insofar as a stranger abduction is a rare event,” he said. “A stranger abduction from a person’s home is even more rare, because the risk/reward ratio does not favor the offender.”
However, they do occur. In 2009, 3-year-old Briant Rodriguez was found unharmed wandering the streets of Mexico two weeks after two men abducted him from his California home. The gunmen ransacked the home, tied up his family, took cash and property, then left with the boy and warned the family not to call the police. Police later identified two undocumented immigrants with criminal records as the culprits.
“The big unknown is why now and why this particular victim?” Pitt said. “This does not sound like a sophisticated crew. Their planning appears impulsive and ill-conceived. That said, law enforcement did a terrific job in connecting the dots. She should thank her lucky stars that she is still alive.”
"There is a possibility that the mom underestimated the guys she was with and never thought they would come in and do a kidnapping," said former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole. "In about 50 percent of the cases involving kidnapping, the kidnapper has psychopathic traits. That daughter was in danger no matter what the mother's relationship was with the kidnapper."
The saga began early on Tuesday morning, around 2:15 a.m., when the intruders, at the time described as two African-American males in their late teens or early 20s, pried open the back door of the Perez home, which the family reportedly moved into a month earlier.
Perez’s mother told police that she tried to hide her daughter and 15-year-old son, but the men, who were armed with handguns, found them. Before they ran off, one of the men shot and wounded the family poodle, and then were seen fleeing with Ayvani in a gray Dodge. “It was a very unique and unusual circumstance,” said Hughes. “They were violent men.”
Ayvani’s family reportedly told police that her abductors later called about a $10,000 ransom for her return. NBC later reported that the demand had been increased to $100,000.
Police immediately issued a statewide Amber Alert for the 93-pound teenager who was wearing blue-and-gray Star Wars pajamas and a blue-and-gray “Super Hero” shirt. Over 150 state, county, and federal law-enforcement officers participated in the search for the 4’11” Ayvani who had just started grade nine on August 5 at a local high school.
Shortly after the abduction, police released a composite sketch of the two men, and a Facebook page called Bring Ayvani Hope Perez HOME SAFE was created by a concerned mother to help find the teen. As of Wednesday evening, the page had over 7,500 “likes.”
The abduction caused terror in the small neighborhood. “It’s very scary,” Breyana Walker, a 16-year-old junior who lives down the street from Ayvani, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I feel like I need someone here with me. It could happen to anybody. I don’t know what to do.”
Maties Otalis, a father of four, told the Atlanta paper that he was shocked by the kidnapping. “We always have police around this area,” he said. “I don’t expect such to happen in my neighborhood. I feel like moving out of this area.”
On Wednesday afternoon, 36 hours later, police announced they found the teenager in a “residence” in the city of Conyers, and arrested Contreras-Rodriguez and Jackson, a paroled felon who had recently been released from the Fulton County Jail on July 19 after being arrested on a plethora of charges that included stalking and theft.
“He is going back [to prison],” says Hughes about Jackson.
“It is a sigh of relief she has been found,” said J.D. Hardin, a communications specialist with the Henry County School System. “As long as she is safe and sound, that is the most important thing. There are all kinds of tragedies that have occurred here. We’ve had students pass away or go missing, but nothing this large of a scale.”