ST. PETERSBURG — Photojournalist Michael Egger pulled into the apartment complex off 71st Avenue N on Monday afternoon, waiting for reporter Mark Douglas. The two WFLA-Ch. 8 journalists were looking for someone — they wouldn’t say who — when they found someone else:
An 8-month-old baby reported missing along with a car stolen just minutes earlier, according to St. Petersburg police.
The child was dressed in a blue jumper, his bottle tucked under his arm, sitting in his infant car seat, apparently unaware that officers were criss-crossing the area trying to find him.
"He wasn’t troubled by anything at that moment," Douglas said. "But we were very troubled. You don’t leave a baby alone in public."
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The whole thing started at 12:22 p.m., when the child’s father called 911 at 12:22 p.m. to report his son was missing, along with his 2001 teal Toyota Camry, from the Gateway On 4th Apartments at 501 116th Ave. N.
"The father was putting the child in the car when he realized he forgot his wallet," said St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez.
The father left the car running with the air conditioning on, then went back inside to get his wallet. When he came out — as is often the case in a city beset by juvenile car thieves and motorists who leave their keys in their vehicles — the Camry was gone.
The thief must have quickly discovered the passenger, dropping the baby off after driving about 10 minutes south, police said, at the Parkview condos at 800 71st Ave. N.
When Egger pulled into the parking lot there to wait for Douglas, he saw the child carrier. Police said the baby was left in the grass, under shade.
Egger started knocking on doors, trying to find the baby’s parents. Then he called Douglas to report his discovery, and Douglas called 911 at 12:49 p.m. — 27 minutes after the car was reported stolen.
"I was still on the phone when the first squad car came screaming up and screeched to a halt and the officer ran out," Douglas said.
The Camry was found soon afterward at 2700 19th St. S with no one inside. Police said they are still searching for whoever took it.
They released this description of the man who may have taken the car: A black man in his early to mid 20s with a thin build, about 5-foot-7 and 130-pounds. He bore some facial hair and was wearing a dark T-shirt and red plaid boxers beneath grungy white shorts. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call St. Petersburg police at (727) 893-7780.
Whoever stole the Camry will face a charge of kidnapping as well as grand theft auto, Fernandez said. The child was returned unharmed to his father. The identities of both were not released by police.
"Throughout all of this the calmest person in the crowd was the baby." Douglas said. "That baby was a real champ. Toward the end of it, the officer was holding him in his arms and the bay was sticking his fingers in his mouth and pulling on his badge.
"Just another day in baby world."
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