Abducted toddler returned safely
Published: December 7, 2005 | 2936th good news item since 2003
Several tense hours after a nationwide Amber Alert was issued, baby Marcos Richmond was returned to his mother’s arms, and the St. Clair Township couple and their adult daughter accused of taking the 18-month-old boy were behind bars.
“We are just so happy and ready to go home,” said mother Cindy Richmond. She sobbed and held the boy with dark hair and eyes to her chest moments after police detectives pulled in the station at 2:15 p.m. about 12 hours after the alert was issued.
Tammy Johnston, 39, her husband, Louis Johnston, 40, and her daughter, Sara Bowling, 21, all of 1965 Jackson Road, in the Overpeck area of St. Clair Township, are each charged with interference with custody, a fourth-degree felony.
The Johnstons are described by police and the Richmonds as family friends and frequent baby sitters for Marcos, but why the trio took the baby, apparently with plans to leave the state, was still in question Tuesday night.
“I just want to know why they did this to me after they have known me for years,” Cindy Richmond said.
Her mother, Anne, the child’s grandmother, said, “I can understand they would love to have a grandkid, but doing something like this, I just don’t understand.”
Cindy Richmond, 20, called Middletown police to her residence on Arlington Avenue on Monday night and told them Tammy Johnston had failed to return her baby. Middletown Detectives Fred Shuemake and Mark Specht went to the Johnston residence in Overpeck and it appeared that the family had moved items out of the house.
Sara Bowling spent Sunday night with Cindy Richmond; the women had been friends for years. Marcos was staying with the Johnstons. While Cindy Richmond was at work on Monday, Sara Bowling packed up the child’s clothing, then took money and personal identification belonging to Cindy Richmond and left, according to police.
“She took my purse, my ID and money I had for Christmas,” Cindy Richmond said.
After discovering the items missing, the mother went to the Johnstons’ residence and did not find the family or her child, said Lt. Don Owens. She then contacted law enforcement officers.
For hours the Amber Alert broadcast descriptions and photos of Marcos, the Johnstons and their 1993 Chevy truck. There was a report Tuesday morning that the truck may have been spotted in Florida, but that tip proved to be unfounded, police said.
At about 12:30 p.m., Middletown police got some help from Louis Johnston’s former employer in Overpeck who had been contacted by Louis Johnston, Owens said.
“He (the former employer) was acting as a go-between,” Owens said, adding Johnston said he wanted to turn himself in to authorities at a Kroger store in the Cleves area.
Eventually, the Johnstons, Bowling and the child were found walking east on U.S. 50 in Cleves, Owens said. They were taken into custody without incident.
Shuemake, who was questioning the Johnstons Tuesday evening, said he believes the trio conspired to take the child.
“This was a planned deal,” Shuemake said, but added he does not believe they ever meant any “ill will toward the child.”
Tammy Johnston’s mother, Geraldine Craun of Oxford, said her daughter took care of Marcos for weeks at a time.
“This was no abduction,” Craun said. “There was no reason to take the baby, she took care of him all the time.”
Friends and family of the Johnstons said Tuesday night there is a note from Cindy Richmond to the Johnstons giving them custody of the baby,
Police said they have also heard that story, but Tuesday night still had not seen a note from Cindy Richmond or the father, Jose Garcia Bernardino.
Cindy Richmond said it is untrue that she gave the Johnstons “any custody” of her child.
“It is just not true,” she said. “They took my baby and they also stole from me. Now I have to get a new ID and everything. Why would I sign over custody to dingy people like that.”
Little Marcos seemed largely unaware of the police and media attention he received. Owens said officers had to borrow a car seat from an employee at Kroger to transport the child back to Middletown. He sucked on a cup of juice during the return trip with Shuemake in the backseat beside him.
Richard Richmond, Marcos’ grandfather, was the first family member to see the baby he calls “Markie” when he arrived at the police station. Owens stopped the car so the grandfather could see for himself that the boy was safe.
“Oh, God there he is,” Richard Richmond said. “Look at him. He’s all right. Hi Markie.”
Moments before, the grandfather screamed “fry” at the police vehicle transporting Tammy Johnston to the Middletown City Jail, where the suspects remain without bond. They are due to appear in Middletown Municipal Court today.