The kidnapping of an 8-year-old Texas girl that was captured by a doorbell camera in May is once again in the public eye, in large part due to body camera footage released Monday by police that depicts the girl’s equally dramatic rescue by officers.
The video shows Fort Worth police officers rushing the room at WoodSpring Suites, located in the nearby suburb of Forest Hill, where kidnapper Michael Webb had taken the girl and sexually assaulted her. Webb, a homeless man who was convicted in September of kidnapping, was sentenced Thursday to life in federal prison with the possibility of parole, according to court records.
U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, who prosecuted the case for the Northern District of Texas, said last week that it took jurors less than 10 minutes to find Webb, 51, guilty of snatching the girl from her mother’s arms around 6:38 p.m. May 18 as they took a walk in the Ryan Place neighborhood of Fort Worth.
Officers found the girl about eight hours later, hidden in a plastic bin of dirty laundry in Webb’s hotel room.
Cox said in a statement that federal prosecutors are grateful for the judge’s decision to sentence Webb to life in prison.
“My hope is that this family and this community will find solace in knowing that he will never be able to harm another little child again,” Cox said.
Investigators credited civilians, one of whom was identified by ABC News as a pastor familiar with the child’s family, with first spotting Webb’s vehicle in the hotel parking lot and calling for help.
“I’d like to give you all a hand, as citizens in this community, for pulling together the way you did,” Joel Fitzgerald, then the Fort Worth’s police chief, said at a news conference following the girl’s safe recovery.
A Forest Hills police sergeant, Richardson Wolfe, was later fired for discounting those same civilians’ concerns, despite the fact that they were correct, Forest Hills police Chief Dan Dennis said in June.
“They had located what was correctly the suspect’s vehicle. He basically discounted that,” Dennis said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “He looked at the suspect vehicle as unrelated and essentially tried to talk them out of it being the right vehicle.
“Fort Worth showed up and took that same evidence and, within minutes, was breaching the door.”
Wolfe also failed to find the girl when he searched Webb’s hotel room more than two hours before her rescue. The sergeant was called to the scene after someone who noticed Webb -- and the young victim -- at the hotel called the front desk and told the clerk they thought he was the man being sought by Fort Worth authorities.
The clerk, who called police, pointed Wolfe and another officer to Webb’s third-floor room, the Star-Telegram reported. After officers knocked for several minutes, Webb eventually opened the door.
“Michael Webb was less than cooperative, but after several minutes, the officers were permitted to step into the room and look,” according to a statement to the Star-Telegram. “Upon entry into the room, the officers made visual inspection of the areas of the room that appeared to be large enough to conceal the missing child. They did not locate any other occupants inside the room.
“With no one located and no other information available, the officers cleared the scene.”
Dennis said in June that Wolfe’s failure to find the girl during that first sweep of the room was not a factor in his termination, according to WFAA in Dallas. The search had been a reasonable one, the chief said.
Instead, his termination stemmed from his response to the tip from the pastor, which the news station said Dennis described as “woefully incompetent” and displaying “shocking ineptitude.”
Forest Hills officers, including Wolfe, were the first to return to the hotel shortly after 2 a.m. after receiving the tip about Webb’s car in the parking lot. Fort Worth officers arrived about six minutes later and took over, since the kidnapping took place in their jurisdiction.
“The child was located with Michael Webb a short time later,” the release to the newspaper said.
Dennis said Wolfe could not remain on the force after his handling of the tip that led to the girl’s rescue. “After looking at all of it, I wouldn’t have wanted him to respond to the call if it was my 8-year-old, so I can’t keep him on staff,” Dennis said.
‘We got her! We got her!’
The body camera footage released Monday shows the officers’ remarkable discovery.
The video, which was obtained by multiple media outlets, begins with the officer wearing the camera racing toward the hotel in a police cruiser. As he approaches the scene, he does so without activating the car’s lights and sirens.
His partner asks why.
“If this guy’s looking out the windows, I’m not trying to let him see that we’re rolling around,” the officer responds.
Once at the hotel, the officer is seen hurrying inside and asking a woman who appears to be a hotel housekeeper if she has the room information for Room 333, where Webb was staying.
“I need it real fast,” he tells the woman, which sends her running into a small office, where she pulls Webb’s registration paperwork from a filing cabinet. The officer determines the man in the room matches the description of the wanted kidnapper.
He takes the paperwork back outside, where some of his fellow officers are using flashlights to search the ground for clues. According to prosecutors, the officers had confirmed the presence in the parking lot of the car suspected in the abduction.
Blood was visible on the front passenger seat, they said.
The officer recording the search is seen handing a colleague the hotel paperwork, asking her to hold on to it. Meanwhile, other officers are already closing in on Webb upstairs.
After obtaining a police shield, the officer with the body camera is seen running up several flights of stairs to the third floor, where a team waits outside Room 333. Webb and the girl are on the other side of the door.
“Fort Worth PD, open the door,” an officer is heard calling as he knocks repeatedly, getting no answer.
After several seconds, an officer gives the command, “Ram it.”
As one officer kicks at the door and another readies a metal battering ram, Webb calls from the other side: “Hold on.”
“Open the door! Open the door! Fort Worth Police Department! Open the door!” an officer yells.
Webb doesn’t respond, so the officer with the ram begins striking the door.
“Hold on, man, I’m getting dressed,” Webb calls.
“Open the God-(expletive) door!” an officer yells back.
The officer with the ram hits the door a fourth and final time as Webb tells officers he’s opening the door.
“Hands. Let me see your hands,” an officer tells him as the door swings open. “Step out here. Step out.”
“God (expletive),” Webb mutters, sounding annoyed, as the officers grab him and begin to pull him into the hallway, naked except for a pair of white socks. Two officers force him onto the ground and handcuff him as the rest swarm into the hotel room, guns drawn, in search of the girl.
“Blood on the bed,” an officer notes as the beam of a police flashlight illuminates the room.
A moment later, success.
“Hey, here she is! Here she is!” an officer exclaims.
The girl is seen rising from the plastic bin as the officer squats down to pick her up. Her small arms encircle his neck.
“Got her! We got her! We got her!” another officer calls out in the video.
Watch the footage below, courtesy of WFAA. Warning: The video may be difficult for some viewers.
As the officers, out of breath but jubilant, radio in the news that the girl has been found and Webb is in custody, she is heard asking them about her clothes.
“Don’t worry about your clothes,” an officer tells her.
The officer wearing the body camera finds a towel to wrap around the girl.
“Here you go, baby,” the officer says as he hands the towel to a colleague. They then head down the hotel stairwell with the girl.
“Come here, sweetheart,” the officer says as he holds the door to the stairwell open.
“You’re OK,” the officer carrying the girl says.
“Yeah,” she responds.
“You’re safe, we got you,” the officer continues as they begin their descent.
“You’re going to be OK,” the officer filming the incident says.
As they arrive in the parking lot of the hotel, the officers order two men in the parking lot to stand back. One of them is later identified as the girl’s father, who is on the phone telling someone where his daughter had been found.
According to ABC News, the pastor who called in the tip about Webb’s car was also at the scene when the girl was brought out.
A brazen daylight kidnapping
Officers wrapped Webb in a sheet and took him to the police station where, in a three-hour recorded statement, he admitted to kidnapping and raping the girl. According to the Star-Telegram, FBI Special Agent Chris Thompson and Fort Worth Police Detective Amy Heise asked Webb early in the interview if he knew why he was there.
“A little girl,” he responded. “That little girl.”
Webb initially lied to the investigators, claiming he’d been paid $1,000 by a man named Nick to abduct and sexually assault the 8-year-old, the newspaper reported. He came clean about two hours into the interview, telling Thompson and Heise they deserved the truth because they had “been nice to (him) considering what the (expletive) he did.”
Crying at times, Webb told the investigators he arrived at the hotel with the girl around 8:30 p.m. after spending a couple of hours in the car in an empty church parking lot. He made her stay hidden on the front passenger floorboard of the vehicle, court records indicate.
Webb admitted in his confession that he threatened the girl in an effort to keep her from telling police what he’d done to her.
“What did you say to scare her, Michael?” Heise asks in the video.
“I told her if she said anything, I would do something to her parents,” Webb says, sobbing.
The girl told investigators that same threat is what kept her quiet the first time police showed up at the kidnapper’s hotel room looking for her.
Webb’s federal public defender, John Stickney, attempted in September to get his confession thrown out, alleging that his client had not slept in three days and was not lucid enough the morning of May 19 to waive his right to speak without a lawyer present. Following a hearing that included testimony from Thompson, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor denied the motion, the Star-Telegram reported.
During the trial, Webb’s lawyers did not cross-examine any of the prosecution’s witnesses or call any of their own. According to the newspaper, they urged jurors to ignore the emotions brought up by the testimony regarding the girl’s sexual assault.
Stickney argued during his closing that the government failed to produce evidence that Webb was participating in interstate commerce during the crime, one of the elements that must be proven under the federal law against kidnapping.
Court records in the case cite the hotel’s proximity to the interstate, making it a popular stopover for interstate travelers, as proof of that element of the kidnapping charge. Webb, who used Google maps on his cellphone to find the hotel, also drove along Interstate 35 and Interstate 20 to get there.
“The cellphone, the internet and the interstate highways were used to facilitate and to further the commission of the offense because they helped Webb reach the hotel by the most direct route,” the documents say.
The records and media reports describe how Webb, who was driving a gray Ford 500 registered to his mother, approached his victim and her mother twice as the pair walked along 6th Avenue in Fort Worth the evening of the abduction.
According to the Star-Telegraph, the girl’s mother, who was not named to keep her daughter from being identified because of the sexual assault, testified at Webb’s September trial that he asked her upon his first approach if she wanted to get high. He also asked if she liked money, the woman said.
Webb drove off but returned a short time later. That time, he got out of the car and grabbed her daughter, pushing the girl into the car through the driver’s door before climbing in after her.
The girl’s mother tried to climb onto his lap to hit the brakes, but Webb was able to push her out of the car and speed away.
In his confession, portions of which have been made public, Webb tells Thompson and Heise he “scoped (the neighborhood) out pretty good” in advance. Still, he said, he must have missed at least one witness.
“When I pushed the woman and grabbed her, I heard somebody screaming. I heard somebody screaming,” Webb says in the video.
That portion of the abduction was captured on a doorbell camera across the street from the scuffle. In the grainy footage, the girl’s mother can be seen falling to the asphalt as Webb drives off with her daughter.
She gets up and runs down the street, screaming for help.
“Help me! Help me, please!” the girl’s mother screams. “My daughter just got kidnapped!”
Watch footage from the doorbell camera below, courtesy of ABC News.
The homeowner of the home with the camera can be seen stopping in his yard and watching in alarm as the woman runs down the street. Webb’s car speeds off in the distance.
The girl’s mother was equally frantic in her 911 call, which was obtained by ABC News.
“A car, a gray car, just drove off. I think it was a handicap. He just kidnapped my daughter,” the panic-stricken woman tells the dispatcher. “He dragged me off the street and kidnapped my daughter.”
The woman pleads with the dispatcher, describing the abductor as a scary man who had been harassing them. She says police need to find her daughter, now.
“Please,” she tells the dispatcher. “I can’t let her be gone! Please!”
A critical clue
Thompson, who works on the FBI’s Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Task Force, told ABC News the doorbell camera that caught the tail end of the abduction was a lucky break. The camera is not designed to record any random movement in the street, like a car driving past.
It kicked on when the homeowner stepped outside.
“The person who owned the home, essentially, accidentally activated the Ring doorbell at that time,” Thompson told the network.
The footage, which gave investigators a look at the kidnapper’s vehicle, was crucial.
“The Ring doorbell video was the only piece of video that was available for this particular case. It was absolutely critical,” the FBI agent said.
The girl’s mother was also able to give detectives a description of the man who snatched her daughter.
News of the abduction spread quickly through Fort Worth-area media, leading several members of the community to aid in the search for the missing girl. Heise, who led her department’s investigation, also reached out to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for assistance.
Heise told ABC News each moment that went by without word of the girl’s whereabouts and safety felt heavy.
“It felt like time was flying by and that I was moving so slow, and that I just could not move fast enough,” Heise told the network. “Because I knew we needed to move fast, and it just felt like I just couldn't get it done.”
The detective said she was in a “state of shock” when she learned the girl had been found alive.
“I was working as hard as I could to find this little girl, and I just couldn't believe that we had done it,” Heise said. “And in that moment, I just felt a great sense of gratitude to the community, because they did this. They did this. It wasn't us.”
Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office, said following Webb’s September conviction that he was proud of the collaboration of all those involved in the case, including his agency’s Child Exploitation Task Force and the Fort Worth Police Department’s Major Case Unit Task Force.
He also thanked the citizen volunteers, who he said “worked tirelessly” to help bring the victim home to her family.
“The critical role volunteer searchers and other members of the public played in recovering the victim cannot be overstated, and the FBI is grateful for their assistance,” DeSarno said.
Following Webb’s sentencing Thursday, DeSarno said law enforcement and area residents took a dangerous predator off the streets.
“Today’s sentence sends an important message to all predators,” the agent said. “We will not allow any crime against children to go unpunished.”
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