Soon after cell phones across New York screeched Tuesday morning with an Amber Alert asking for help locating 16-year-old Karol Sanchez, details began to emerge that her frightening abduction on a Bronx street was a planned hoax.
In the grainy black-and-white surveillance video released to the public, two masked men exit a four-door beige sedan shortly before 11:30 p.m. on Monday night, dragging Sanchez into the car as her 36-year-old mother gives chase.
But police interviews with family and friends and phone records obtained by the New York City Police Department showed the teenager had been in contact with one of her kidnappers, a 23-year-old man named Roman Martinez who had been released a week earlier on bail from Rikers Island jail. Sanchez had even contacted a high-school friend after she was kidnapped.
Authorities have yet to announce why Sanchez would allegedly stage her kidnapping, but a senior law enforcement official told The Daily Beast that investigators have been looking into the possibility that the teenager’s mother, Carmen Gisela Sanchez, wanted to take her back to their native Honduras but the girl did not want to go.
As of Wednesday morning, authorities were not planning to charge Sanchez with a crime and were looking to speak with Martinez about his role in the debacle that forced authorities to launch a feverish search for a teen who ultimately told investigators she was actually safe and eating rice and beans with her alleged kidnappers in a vacant apartment roughly a mile away.
According to a detailed account of the ongoing investigation shared with The Daily Beast by the senior law enforcement official, detectives determined from interviews with Sanchez’s family and friends that the teenager had been speaking and texting with someone on her ride down to the Bronx on the day she was kidnapped, a person who police ultimately learned was Martinez.
Sanchez, who lives in Dutchess County, was visiting relatives in the Bronx when the supposed kidnapping took place.
In the days leading up to the incident, Sanchez had been plotting the hoax with Martinez, who was in Rikers Island jail awaiting bail for his role in an alleged stabbing in the Bronx in November, the official said. Martinez, whom Sanchez had met at a party earlier this year, was released on Dec. 9.
During the search for Sanchez, her mother was asked to listen to automatically recorded phone calls between the teenager and Martinez from the jail. The mother identified the woman’s voice was that of her daughter, the official said, noting that’s when it started to “appear this entire incident may have been staged.”
At about 2:30 p.m., Sanchez was found safe on Eagle Avenue in the Bronx by NYPD patrol officers—not far from where she was abducted.
“She was trembling while she was walking. She just looked really scared,” Akash Singh, a construction worker who witnessed her return, told the New York Post. “She put her hands on her and knees and she started talking to the cops. They jumped out of the car and put her in,” he said.
According to the senior law-enforcement official, Sanchez told the officers she had been walking for two hours after being released unharmed. Sanchez claimed the men had abducted her by mistake and were looking for a girl named Tiffany.
Half an hour later, the local precinct commander tweeted Sanchez has found “safe and unharmed,” before thanking his colleagues and federal partners who had helped in the kidnapping search.
But back at the precinct, detectives who were interviewing Sanchez were immediately suspicious after observing that her coat and hair were bone dry even though it had been pouring rain outside, the official said.
As the detectives probed further, the official said, Sanchez allegedly admitted the abduction was staged, and that she was still scheming with Martinez while she was driving down to the Bronx with her mother. She told investigators the plan was to have him drive by and kidnap her in a car.
At 11:27 p.m. the plan went into action. A car pulled up beside Sanchez and her mother in front of the apartment building of the family member they were visiting.
Martinez and two other men—whom Sanchez claimed she didn’t previously know—had parked and watched the two women, but were concerned too many people were around and waited until they were almost inside the building, the teenager told investigators, according to the official.
Then, as seen in the surveillance video, two of the four men in the car got out, grabbed Sanchez, and dragged her into the car before fleeing south on Eagle Avenue. Carmen Gisela Sanchez, who was pushed to the ground, tried to grab her daughter’s coat before the girl was whisked away.
Police received a 911 call reporting an abduction 12 minutes later.
Sanchez told investigators Martinez and her fellow kidnappers took her to a somewhat vacant apartment a little more than a mile away, the official said.
As the five were hanging out Monday night, Sanchez’s mother was being interviewed by investigators, the official said. The teenager stressed to authorities she did not sleep, drink, or do drugs with the men who agreed to partake in her alleged kidnapping.
As authorities were working throughout the night obtaining phone records, images of the car, and identify suspects, Sanchez said the group was eating rice and beans with chicken in the apartment.
At 10 a.m. Tuesday, more than 10 hours after Sanchez was abducted, police sent out an Amber Alert stating, “The child was taken under circumstances that lead police to believe that they are in imminent danger of serious harm and/or death.”
When they began to see the news and a stream of social-media posts about the alleged kidnapping, Sanched told investigators the five became afraid their actions drew too much attention and began to concoct the story that her kidnapping was a case of mistaken identity, the official said.
By the time authorities found Sanchez, Martinez was no longer at the abandoned home.
Before she was released, authorities told Sanchez’s family what their investigation found, and offered to have the teeanger examined by emergency medical responders or taken to the hospital for an examination. Both the teenager and her family refused. Instead, they asked if they could just take her home.