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Suspect in kidnapping of 9-year-old girl wrote a ransom note to try to get money, court documents state

<i>Sena Family</i><br/>
Sena Family

By Elizabeth Wolfe, Andy Rose, John Miller and Sabrina Shulman, CNN

(CNN) — The 46-year-old man accused of kidnapping 9-year-old Charlotte Sena in upstate New York wrote a ransom note with intent to get money, according to an arraignment memorandum released Tuesday.

Craig Nelson Ross Jr., abducted the girl “and wrote a ransom letter with the intent to compel the payment of monies as ransom for her,” the document states.

He is charged with kidnapping in the first degree, and police said further charges were anticipated. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for October 6, according to the document. He was remanded to Saratoga County Correctional Facility without bail, New York State Police said in a news release.

CNN has reached out to the defense attorney for Ross.

The details from the court document come a day after the 9-year-old girl was reunited with her family following a frantic two-day search for her whereabouts. Her family released a statement Tuesday thanking law enforcement for safely resolving her disappearance.

“We are thrilled that she is home and we understand that the outcome is not what every family gets,” the Sena family said in a statement. “A huge thank you to the FBI, the New York State police, all of the agencies that were mobilized, all of the families, friends, community, neighbors and hundreds of volunteers who supported us and worked tirelessly to bring Charlotte home.”

State police have held off on interviewing Charlotte about her kidnapping and time in captivity, according to sources briefed on the investigation. After a medical check, Charlotte was returned to her family so they would have time together. Investigators will use specially trained forensic interviewers who are skilled in conducting interviews of young victims and witnesses, sources told CNN’s John Miller.

Investigators were able to find Charlotte thanks to the ransom note, state officials said. The note was dropped in the mailbox at the Sena family’s home before dawn on Monday, and fingerprints on the note were instrumental in identifying Ross as a suspect, officials said.

Authorities then tracked him to a residence where law enforcement arrested him Monday evening and immediately found Charlotte hidden in a cabinet, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in a news conference.

The girl appeared “outwardly physically unharmed” and was taken to a hospital to be examined, the governor said.

Ross invoked his right to an attorney and has not been formally interviewed, sources told Miller.

The path to discovering Charlotte

Charlotte went missing on Saturday during a family camping trip at New York’s Moreau Lake State Park, sparking an around-the-clock search involving hundreds of personnel from multiple agencies, including the FBI, state police said.

At around 4:20 a.m. Monday, less than 36 hours after she was reported missing, the suspect drove by the Sena family home and placed the ransom note in their mailbox, according to Hochul. Despite the early hour, Charlotte’s parents were still at the campsite searching for their daughter.

When state police, who were monitoring the home, discovered the note, they were able to recover fingerprints from the document and began running them through law enforcement databases to see if they could find a match, the governor said.

A hit came at 2:30 p.m., linking the fingerprint to Ross, the governor said. Ross’ fingerprint had been entered into the database for a 1999 incident of driving while intoxicated, she said.

That hit led investigators to a camper behind his mother’s double-wide mobile home in Ballston Spa, New York.

Two state and federal SWAT teams descended upon the residence in helicopters, made entry and arrested Ross around 6:30 p.m., Hochul said. Charlotte was immediately found inside a cabinet.

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

“They were able to bring her to safety. And not long after, she was in the arms of her parents at a hospital,” the governor added.

Ross resisted arrest and suffered minor injuries while being taken into custody, state police said.

In addition to the fingerprints, investigators also analyzed cell phone pings around the park at the time of Charlotte’s disappearance, Hochul told CNN Monday night. Additional insight came from park records, which contain information about visitors who paid an entrance fee or registered to camp overnight, she said.

“With those cell phone records, they can go back in time and figure out how long he was in that park and whether he had been monitoring that family either overnight, or through the day or only for minutes,” Lyons said. “It could have been that lightning struck when he drove in and saw opportunity.”

The property where Charlotte was found is registered to the suspect’s mother and is located almost 17 miles away from where she was last seen in Moreau Lake State Park, according to property records reviewed by CNN. The suspect also owns a property that is only 1,400 feet from the Sena family home, the records show.

CNN has reached out to the suspect’s mother and her then-husband, who purchased the Ballston Spa land together, but did not immediately receive a response.

‘Every parent’s worst nightmare’

Charlotte’s parents were confronted with “every parent’s worst nightmare” when their daughter took off on her bike Saturday and didn’t return, Hochul said.

The girl was last seen around 6:15 p.m. Saturday in Moreau Lake State Park, a popular recreation site about 45 miles north of Albany. She had been riding her bike with friends around one of the park loops and wanted to do one more loop by herself, according to the governor.

Charlotte’s mother reported her missing around 6:45 p.m. when her daughter’s bike was found abandoned in the loop and the 9-year-old was nowhere to be found, Lt. Colonel Richard Mazzone of the New York State Police said.

As time went on and the search for Charlotte expanded across several counties, authorities began to fear she had been abducted, Hochul said.

“As each hour went on, hope faded. Because we all know the stories,” Hochul said.

State police described Charlotte in a news release as “a bright and adventurous girl who loves to be outside.”

“Charlotte has a huge heart and wants to create a club at her school for kids who don’t have friends. She always put others first,” state police said, assuring the public they were working tirelessly to find her.

By Monday morning, the search encompassed 46 linear miles and drew about 400 search and rescue personnel from state, federal and local law enforcement agencies, as well as private groups and dozens of volunteer fire departments, state police said.

“It was an awesome sight to witness … everyone doing their job,” Hochul said Monday night, thanking those who worked to find the girl.

“There were a lot of parents out there among the ranks and everybody thinks, ‘If it was my child, I would want everybody under the sun looking for them.’ And that’s what this team did,” she said.

Massive search team with specialty units was put together

Immense law enforcement resources from state and federal agencies were brought to bear after the child’s disappearance.

The New York State Police Special Operations Response Team, an aviation unit with helicopters, fixed wing aircraft and a specialized drone team, was sent to the area. The unit was established for the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics as an elite state police counterterrorism team and has extensive training in rappelling from helicopters, fast roping from rooftops and hostage rescue.

State police dogs, hostage negotiators and major crimes detectives were all brought to the state police command center at Moreau Lake State Park, according to multiple law enforcement sources.

The FBI offered a full package of resources to support the investigation into Charlotte’s disappearance.

The bureau has a Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team, a rapid response entity made up of investigators who specialize in assisting local law enforcement, understanding that the first 48 hours in a child abduction case are the most critical.

Other teams included the Behavioral Analysis Unit made up of profilers who track and analyze serial killers, and Crisis Response Team agents specially trained in negotiating in kidnap and hostage situations.

Sources said another critical entity in this case was the Cellular Analysis Survey Team – a small group of agents that deploy to major cases and specialize in real-time tracking of cell phones and historical recreation of cellular records and trails.

Albany field office agents also worked with federal prosecutors to get subpoenas and warrants from federal magistrates to pull records, sources added.

The FBI delivered a large mobile command post that has encrypted satellite access to all major FBI databases. The bureau also brought in victim-witness advocates to help deal with family and friends of the victim, multiple sources briefed on the case said.

The FBI’s jurisdiction in a kidnapping case follows the law created after the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in New Jersey. Based on the “Lindbergh Law,” the FBI can enter any kidnapping investigation on the presumption the victim might be transported across state lines, making the kidnapping a federal crime.

And despite the Hollywood image of the FBI swooping in and big-footing the locals, in most cases – like the Idaho student murders, the Gilgo Beach serial killer case, or any number of active shooter situations – the FBI brings the full raft of bureau resources in a support role.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s John Miller, Rachel Burstein Parks, Eric Levenson, Paul P. Murphy, Jennifer Henderson, Jared Formanek, Dave Alsup and Raja Razek contributed to this report.

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