How A Ransom Note Led Police To Find Missing 9-Year-Old Charlotte Sena

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After almost 48 hours of searching, police found missing 9-year-old Charlotte Sena, who disappeared while riding her bike during a camping trip with friends and family in upstate New York.

A ransom note, a fingerprint and round-the-clock police work led to the girl being reunited with her family and the arrest of a suspect, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) told reporters late Monday night. Craig Nelson Ross Jr., 46, has been charged with kidnapping and other charges could follow.

“Often these stories don’t end up like this,” Hochul said.

Here’s what officials have said so far about the investigation, and the questions that still remain.

9-year-old Charlotte Sena went missing at Moreau Lake State Park on Saturday evening.
9-year-old Charlotte Sena went missing at Moreau Lake State Park on Saturday evening.

9-year-old Charlotte Sena went missing at Moreau Lake State Park on Saturday evening.

The Disappearance

Charlotte was last seen on Saturday, riding her bike in Moreau Lake State Park roughly 45 miles north of Albany during a camping trip with her family. After completing the park’s Loop A with her friends around 6:15 p.m., she decided to take one last loop on her own. When she didn’t return to the campsite for dinner about 15 minutes later, her family began to search for her.

Her bicycle was found on a trail at around 6:45 p.m., which led her concerned mother to call police just a few minutes later.

The park was closed down as authorities looked throughout the park for the girl. But by 9:30 a.m. Sunday, authorities said they had “exhausted” their search, which had included more than 100 officers, underwater teams and drones. It now appeared likely that the girl had been taken away from the campground by someone. An Amber Alert was issued, noting that authorities believed she was in imminent danger of injury or death.

Finding Charlotte

As the Amber Alert brought national attention to Charlotte’s disappearance, New York state police were stationed at her family’s home in Greenfield.

The break in the case came at 4:20 a.m. Monday, when a man pulled up to the home and left a ransom note in their mailbox, Hochul said. Officers intercepted the letter and began looking for anything that could identify a suspect.

By 2:30 p.m., they had a name. Fingerprints on the letter matched ones in a police database belonging to Ross, who had been booked in 1999 on a driving under the influence charge in Saratoga, Hochul said.

Officers responded to a possible address for Ross, where they were greeted by his mother instead. They learned he was living in a camper behind the home, and SWAT officers made a “dynamic entry” around 6:30 p.m. to detain him as he resisted arrest, Hochul said.

Officers found Charlotte tied up in a cabinet inside the camper, Hochul said.

“She knew she was being rescued. She knew she was in safe hands,” the governor said.

Reunited With Family

Charlotte was taken to a local hospital, and her parents were immediately notified their daughter was found safe, according to the governor. Police said she appeared to be in good health.

“We are thrilled that she is home and we understand that the outcome is not what every family gets,” Jené Sena, Charlotte’s aunt, said in a statement to NBC News on Tuesday.

“A huge thank you to the FBI, the New York State police, all of the multiple agencies that were mobilized, all of the families, friends, and hundreds of volunteers for assisting in her safe return,” she added.

The Ongoing Investigation

According to Hochul, it has still not yet been determined whether Charlotte was targeted. So far, there’s been no information released about a connection between the girl and Ross, though Hochul noted that his car was registered to a home about 2 miles away from the Sena family home.

According to arraignment documents obtained by HuffPost, Ross was formally accused of kidnapping with the “intent to compel the payment of monies as ransom.” He is being held in a county jail without bail, and a preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 6.

It’s also unclear what other charges he could face, though state police said “additional charges are anticipated.” A public defender did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

In an interview with CNN, Hochul said that cell phone location data from the area Charlotte was last seen as well as the park’s overnight registration records were part of the investigation.

“This is still an active investigation. More details will be shared as they become available,” police said.