Even as joy and relief greeted the homecoming of kidnapping victim Ayvani Perez, authorities acknowledged that one of the suspects arrested Wednesday had been arrested last year on drug charges with the girl’s mother.
The fact that the girl’s mother knew one of the suspects seems to conflict with the theory authorities initially presented about the abduction: that it was a random crime and that the victims did not know the criminals.
At the same time, authorities, noting that the investigation continues, offered no answers as to the motive behind the crime.
Police arrested two men in connection with the 14-year-old’s abduction, but neither was among the two depicted in police sketches of the intruders, so at least two more suspects remain at large.
Ayvani was not injured during the 34-hour ordeal, authorities said, and she has returned to her home on Brookgate Drive in the Ellenwood area of Clayton County.
“She’s back. She looks very nice, very relaxed,” said neighbor Lucille Howard. “I just told her I’ve been praying for her and I’m so glad that she’s home.”
A source familiar with the investigation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that authorities tracked signals off cellphone towers to help locate the suspects and victim. Ayvani was found at a residence in Conyers.
Arrested were Wildrego Jackson, 29, of Atlanta, who faces a federal charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and Juan Alberto Contreras-Rodriguez, 40, a Mexican national who is being held on federal immigration charges.
Jackson had served roughly a year of a five -year cocaine possession sentence from 2006 to 2007, and has had more than a dozen arrests in Fulton and DeKalb counties dating back to 2006 on charges ranging from cocaine possession and child cruelty to assault and attempted burglary, according to prison and jail records.
In 2012, Ayvani’s mother, Maria Corral, was arrested with Contreras-Rodriguez in a major marijuana trafficking bust in McDonough, in which 500 pounds was seized. A federal official confirmed Wednesday that the man arrested with Corral, identified at the time as Juan Alberto Contreras-Ramirez, was arrested Wednesday under the name Juan Alberto Contreras-Rodriguez in the kidnapping case.
“It is the same guy,” said Vincent Perez, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Corral was listed as a witness in the 2012 indictment of Contreras-Ramirez and three other men. She was riding with Contreras-Ramirez, who was renting the house to the other men and contended he was unaware of their marijuana trafficking, said Michael Katz, the lawyer who represented Contreras-Ramirez. The two had arrived at the house shortly before police, he said.
Corral was never indicted in the drug trafficking case, and the charge against her was dismissed shortly after she was arrested with the four men in Henry County.
The charges against Contreras-Ramirez were dismissed last January after Superior Court Judge Arch McGarity ruled that the agents lacked a warrant to search the Henry County house.
Corral changed her name back from Perez after her divorce in 2007, Katz said. He said it was unclear if the couple were romantically involved.
“They were just talking in the driveway,” he said. “I think she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
During the Wednesday press conference on the kidnapping, officials offered few details on the search and rescue of the teen. About 150 federal, state and local authorities worked the case.
Two armed men had burst in through a back door into the family’s home in Ellenwood at 2 a.m. Tuesday and demanded money and jewelry. When they didn’t get what they wanted, the men shot the family dog and kidnapped the youngest of Corral’s two teenage children, still in her pajamas, authorities said.
The kidnappers demanded $10,000 in ransom.
Kidnappings for ransom are rare, and those done at random are even more rare, said Brent Brown, head of Chesley Brown International, a security firm based in Smyrna. Most often, people who are abducted are targeted for a reason. Sometimes the victim has drawn undue attention to themselves, such as the store owner who regularly brings home lots of cash, he said.
Brown said abductions occur more often in countries with a strong drug trade, such as Mexico, or where kidnappers can obtain large amounts by seizing executives of large companies.
The kidnapping of the young teen drew widespread attention, with people posting about the case regularly on social media sites. A Levi’s Call alert was issued. Media crews descended on the neighborhood, including those from “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show. Friends held a candlelight vigil Tuesday.
During the press conference Wednesday, Clayton County police chief Gregory Porter told reporters, “She is safe. She is safe. … She has been reunited with her family. She’s in good health.”
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Staff writers Rhonda Cook, Jeremy Redmon, Tammy Joyner and staff photographer Ben Gray contributed to this article.