A three-day search for a missing seven-year-old in Argentina ended in success on Thursday, after police discovered her and her captor in Luján.
The man who had taken the youngster, 39-year-old Carlos Alberto Savanz, was immediately arrested and taken into custody, police said. They had managed to track the duo’s movements via CCTV cameras and witness statements to the Buenos Aires Province City, located 68 kilometres northwest of the capital, with the final sighting enabled by a call from a concerned member of the public.
“I was coming back from leaving my baby in the garden. I was coming through La Plata and Buenos Aires streets and, right on that corner, I saw the girl on the bicycle with that little plastic box on the back and a cardboard box. I followed then six or seven blocks and called 911,” the neighbour told the TN news channel.
Maia was eventually reunited with her mother, Estela, at a local police station at around 10.30am Thursday morning. The seven-year-old later underwent a series of tests and health checks at the Municipal Hospital Nuestra Señora de Luján, police said.
A relative of the family, speaking Friday, said she was “happy” and “well” and that she had spent the night at a paediatric hospital in Buenos Aires City.
“The girl is fine, but she was cold and hungry. She asked for tea and they gave her pastries because she was hungry,” the family’s lawyer, Rodolfo Baque, told the press.
Later that day, Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni gave a press conference confirming the good news.
“The minor is in the hands of the prosecutor. We must take all the precautions that the handling of these types of cases require,” he declared.
Describing the search as “a very complicated activity,” Berni said the hunt had been difficult due to the lack of captor’s identification, saying he was “undocumented.”
According to reports, Savanz had known the family for around a month prior to Maia’s disappearance.
Buenos Aires City Deputy Mayor also expressed his relief on Twitter: “The news that we all wanted to hear: thanks to the joint work of the City Police, Buenos Aires Province Police and federal forces, M. was found in Luján. The captor has already been arrested and brought before justice.”
Prosecutors said Savanz, the alleged captor, would be investigated for the crime of child abduction, with Judge Fabiana Galletti overseeing the investigation. A series of expert reports have been commissioned to see if Maia was the victim of an injury or other crime. For now, she is under judicial protection, with the Council for the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents of the City set to determine what will happen to her now.
Maia first disappeared on Monday at 9am near Parque Avellaneda, with an emergency alert issued Tuesday morning. A massive operation was subsequently launched, with more than 700 police officers involved. Helicopters and vehicles were also deployed, as television news channels offered blanket coverage of the hunt, repeating images of the young girl taken from CCTV cameras.
As the search progressed, it emerged that the girl and her family lived rough at the intersection of two streets in Barrio Cildañez, sleeping in an impromptu home made out of a tent and railings.
A friend of the family even claimed to the La Nación newspaper that Maia’s mum had been homeless for the last 14 years.
In the wake of the drama, commentators began to highlight how the youngster’s story underlined the homelessness problems plaguing the capital and its outskirts.
Poverty, according to the INDEC national statistics bureau, officially stands at 40.9 percent, while data from the Catholic University of Argentina’s (UCA) Social Debt Observatory says as many as 16 percent of children and adolescents in the country are considered homeless.