Suspect identified in kidnapping of Phoenix girl

Published 3:31 pm Monday, December 28, 2009

When Phoenix police officer Mike Burns pulled near a brown pickup he suspected the two people inside were a kidnapper and his 5-year-old victim. When the truck raced off, he was sure.

“There was no doubt in my mind,” Burns told reporters on Saturday, several hours after the little girl was rescued. “If he disappears, we may not get her back.”

Determined not to let the truck out of his sight, the patrolman set out on a Christmas night car chase through the streets of north Phoenix that ended after 10 minutes in the arrest of 45-year-old Larry Jon Ladwig.

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The frightened girl was taken to a police facility that aids young victims of crime, where it was determined she had been molested. The girl was treated and is back home with her family, police Sgt. Andy Hill said Saturday.

Ladwig was booked into jail on charges of kidnapping, sexual molestation of a child, aggravated assault of a police officer and felony flight. It’s unclear whether Ladwig has a lawyer, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request to interview him.

Hill said statistics show that if police don’t recover children abducted by strangers within the first several hours, “chances are slim of recovering them alive.”

“We really did have a Christmas miracle,” he said.

The girl was rescued at about 9:30 p.m. Friday, more than seven hours after police allege that Ladwig kidnapped her while she was playing outside a Phoenix apartment building.

The Associated Press is not reporting the girl’s name because she may be the victim of a sex crime. The AP had named the girl after her abduction and an Amber alert was issued.

When Burns’ spotted Ladwig’s pickup, he alerted the force. Officers put spike strips across the road several blocks away that punctured Ladwig’s tires, causing him to crash on the roadside.

Ladwig took off on foot but was caught and arrested a block away after a brief struggle during which Hill said he punched an officer in the face.

“It makes you feel good,” Burns said of his part in the girl’s rescue. “It takes a while to soak in.”

Police received the call that the girl had been taken at about 2:15 p.m. An Amber Alert was issued, and authorities began combing the area on foot, by car and with helicopters.

Hill said the child had been playing in a common area at the apartment complex with her two sisters, ages 7 and 9, when a man parked his brown pickup in a nearby parking lot and walked over to them carrying a camera.

He said the man violently pulled down the 7-year-old’s pants, took a photo of her, then grabbed the 5-year-old and threw her into the truck through a window.

“That’s pretty doggone violent,” Hill said. “He’s a weapon himself … (The girl) has got a lot to go through now. She’s not unscarred from this, obviously in a number of ways. She’s got a long road ahead of her.”

After the kidnapping, the 5-year-old’s older sister pounded for help on the door of a neighbor, who called police.

The three sisters live with an aunt, who has legal custody of them, Hill said. The girls’ parents live separately out of state.