By Jenny Paulson – The Amber Alert program, a partnership between law enforcement agencies, transportation agencies, the wireless industry and broadcasters, was put to a test last week during a highly publicized kidnapping of a mother/son that led to a now so flawless state-wide search for them.
Early Thursday afternoon, an Amber Alert was issued after Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez, 22, held his ex-girlfriend Samantha Adams and her one year old son Zahid Adams at gunpoint, kidnapping them from a home in Commerce City, horrifying the entire Front Range as the mainstream media reported what few details of case were first known.
As Amber Alerts blasted smart phones and signs flashed on highways, alerting the public to look for a Honda with Colorado EVQ410 license plates, the mainstream news reported that Gonzalez was said to be driving from Commerce City south on I-25.
Dan Wall, admin of a popular Pueblo Scanner Alert page on facebook, reported online that a driver of a yellow Mustang must have either heard on the news or saw a highway Amber Alert. The driver kept frantically reporting repeatedly to the Colorado State Patrol, seeing a hispanic male in the vehicle described in the Amber Alert, according to the audio provided to Southern Colorado Independent.
The driver in the yellow Mustang appears to have followed the Honda to Pueblo, where the suspect exited the highway, staying in communication with law enforcement the entire time. Wall first reported the news, saying it sounded like a high speed chase between the Mustang and the Honda as he continually updated his posts to urge the public to help find the vehicle, long before the mainstream media reported that the threesome were even in Pueblo.
Jenny Paulson, publisher of the Southern Colorado Independent Magazine, agreed that the public should be alerted to help, and reported online too, that the suspect and mother/son were likely in Pueblo on her websites and popular facebook pages, before further official information was released to the public. The Indy’s breaking reports that officers were searching the north side of Pueblo for the three-some, were confirmed shortly after, by a local facebook user who posted profanities, saying that he was surrounded by what felt like a swat team of police at the north Walmart, who said he looked like the suspect, but he wasn’t.
After unsuccessfully locating the three on the north side, police, worried about the safety of the mother and son, increased their forces and collaborated with the FBI, blasting throughout other parts of the city Thursday afternoon.
Police moved to the south side of Pueblo, according to further audio communication, casing the fairground area, then a house at Wabash, where someone with the same name of a Gonzalez’s cousin lived, but to no avail. That the driver of the yellow mustang may have been helping police was reinforced by an employee working at St Mary’s Hospital that afternoon, who says he too saw a yellow mustang. The employee called police first, then announced on the PPD’s facebook page, that
he thought police should be looking for a yellow mustang speeding near St. Mary’s Hospital, just before the Honda was found in a nearby alley.
“I work security at the hospital and was standing outside,” he said. “The Mustang then drove past the hospital at a high rate of speed… I noted the car because the driver was driving dangerously fast.”
Southern Colorado Independent released exclusive details about the yellow mustang from two sources, but didn’t release the name of the driver, who may have fled at a high speed as the Honda headed down an alley, frightened because of reports that the suspect was armed and dangerous. Police arrived to find the empty vehicle in an alley at 1741 Cypress Street, and reported in a press release shortly after, the description of the three’s clothing, that scanner audio says was identified because of a neighbor’s video system in the alley.
Throughout the afternoon as the events unfolded in social and mainstream media, those with smart phones continued to receive confusing Amber Alerts as details of the horrifying story. One 2:42 pm Amber Alert announced that the vehicle was found, but then another Amber Alert issued at 4:42, said that the vehicle was last seen southbound on I-15 near Pueblo, confusing subscribers. The a second report that the vehicle was found was issued, causing more confusion in the case.
Since Amber Alerts can be slow to be issued, first hand reports, or “citizen journalism” and alternative investigative reporting, have been increasingly critical to helping law enforcement in emergency situations, as proved to be the case in this confusing kidnapping, where the public received false information that the vehicle had been found, and didn’t have descriptions of those involved at first.
Throughout Friday afternoon, Southern Colorado Independent, posted screenshots of Twitter reports urgently informing the public that the CSP had Twittered in error that the Honda had been found earlier, and that Adam’s County was Twittering in panic, so that locals could continue to help locate the vehicle before the mainstream media was able to relay the information in the confusing case.
Wall said that the scanners in Pueblo just seemed to go silent not long after the Honda was found.
As law enforcement and locals increasingly feared for the safety of the mother and son, the news reported that they may be driving south on I-25. Some residents of Pueblo reported to the Southern Colorado Independent, that they frantically helped search for them. A south side resident said that he was so horrified about the news, that drove almost the entire night looking for them, even clear to Stem Beach, but to no avail.
Finally at about 1:30 pm, an RTD guard in Denver spotted them and followed them onto a light rail train just before it left and called to report to police. The suspect fled at the Delaware Street station, yelling profanities, as Denver police headed that direction and finally took Adams and her son into safe custody. Those receiving the Amber Alerts were relieved when the final Amber Alert was issued, saying that they were found safe, and the social, alternative and mainstream media all happily reported the news to the public but that Gonzales is wanted.
The Adam’s County Sheriff’s Department held a press conference at about 6 pm Friday evening and shared more details of the case. Pueblo resident, Carol Archuleta, admitted that it was her and and her grown granddaughter, who drove the threesome to Denver. She said she saw them stranded at a roadside and asked if they needed help, not realizing that they were the focus of a state-wide Amber Alert. She said they called themselves Vince, Christine and the baby Josaya.
Archuleta told the public that they looked tired and hot and that she just simply felt compelled to help them. She wasn’t able find them local shelter that night in Pueblo, then let them stay overnight at her house before her and her granddaughter helped them get diapers at the north Pueblo Walmart, then drove them north because Gonzales convincingly told her that he could get money from a friend.
A relative of Archeleta’s, who knew they were driving the three at least as far as Castle Rock, called authorities and alerted them that they might not realize they could be the ones in the news, and explained that she had an “uber” phone and couldn’t be reached. Scanner audio includes a conversation of a law enforcement officer alerting police in Castle Rock that they might be heading their direction with the help of an “an unwitting assistant,” leading to more confusing mainstream media reports.
Archuleta said they had agreed to take the three to Castle Rock, but were talked into driving them further to Denver where they dropped them off. In hindsight Archuleta told the public that there were red flags, and “looking over the whole situation I’m realizing she was protecting her baby.” She said she was stopped along the way by law enforcement, received a warning, but the officer didn’t identify the three in the vehicle either.
Many blasted out questions on social media discussions of the case in it’s aftermath. While most seemed grateful that the mother and son were found safe, some questioned the slow moving Amber Alert system that reported in error before the suspect’s Honda was actually found and that didn’t give descriptions of those involved. Some wondered if the two women who drove the three to Denver may have willfully assisted them.
However Wall says the scanner reports that he’s studied more since point towards them simply not knowing. He says audio confirms that she and her granddaughter couldn’t receive calls. He doesn’t think they knew they were assisting those involved in an Amber Alert, and agreed with some social media posters, that they may have looked different than the released pictures, because of their exhaustion from being on the run.
The Amber Alert program is activated in the most serious child abduction cases to instantly galvanize the public to assist in the safe recovery of children. Alerts are broadcasted through radio, tv, road signs and all available technology referred to as the Amber Alert Secondary Distribution Program. These broadcasts let law enforcement use the eyes and ears of the public to help quickly locate an abducted child.
The Amber Alert program was named in honor of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and was later found murdered. The program is used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
While this recent Pueblo-related case indicates that Amber Alerts weren’t executed to perfection: the secondary distribution system wasn’t able to give clean facts as the case unfolded; timeliness wasn’t the best; major errors reported; descriptions of persons involved were absent, most agree that its a blessing that the young mother and son were found safe. But that Gonzalez now needs to be found, charged and prosecuted for all the trouble he caused because of this terrifying incident.
If you know anything about the whereabouts of Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez, 22, a hispanic, 5 ft 6, 129 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes, please contact your local law enforcement.
Jenny Paulson is the publisher of the online www.SouthernColoradoIndependent.com
Related story: http://www.southerncoloradoindependent.com/local-news/details-emerge-kidnapping-case-motherson-found-safe-denver-suspect-run-wanted/