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Child Taken in Stolen Auto Reunited with Family

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MERCED – The parents of a three year old girl who was taken with their car as it was stolen were relieved to have their child back home Monday night.

The incident happened at about 6:45pm on the 400 block of West 27th Street, as Melissa Foster was preparing to take her Toyota Corolla to a car wash.

“I took one second just to run back to my porch to grab my purse,” Foster said. “In that split second, my mom saw the car door open and close.”

Someone had jumped into the car and began driving off with it. Melissa’s three year old daughter Jessie Sanchez, or “JJ” as she is affectionately called, was still inside. Melissa chased after the car on foot for two blocks before the vehicle was able to get away.

She believed whoever took her car and her daughter had been watching and waiting for her.

Police searched the surrounding neighborhood for any sign of the the stolen vehicle and the child.

“Commonly when someone steals a car and finds a child inside they (the suspect) will usually abandon the car within three or four blocks,” said Captain Jay Struble with the Merced Police Department. “Unfortunately this was not the case here.”

As time continued to pass with no sign of the car or the child, authorities issued an Amber Alert. Photos of the car and child were posted and shared to social media sites to help the word spread.

At about 8:45pm, the California Highway Patrol received a call from a citizen saying they saw the vehicle parked at a Chevron in Chowchilla. Authorities responded and found the vehicle abandoned with the child inside. Officers had to force entry into the vehicle to gain access, but found the child was unharmed and uninjured.

Detectives with the Merced Police Department, officers with Chowchilla Police and California Highway Patrol, as well as a K-9 from the Merced County Sheriff’s Office searched the area for any signs of a suspect. Monday night there was no word of an arrest.

Captain Struble said investigators were looking at surveillance video from the area, but they can only make out what appeared to be a male figure.

Jessie was brought home and reunited with her family in Merced shortly before 9:30pm. To brighten her spirits, Officer Rogelio Rodriguez bought her lollipops to enjoy on the drive home.

“She was very excited to see her mom and dad when she got back.”

The parents expressed their gratitude for the authorities involved in searching for little Jessie, and thankful for the public and Amber Alert system that made everything in this incident work out.

“Your mind is just a fog in that moment,” the child’s mother said of the two hours waiting while police searched for the girl. “I know she’s so strong and so brave.”

Carlos Rodriguez is an Emmy Award winning photojournalist specializing in public safety and natural disasters. His passion for local news stems from a deep commitment to his community, with a selfless mission to inform the citizens of the valley. As he worked on assignment for 19 days at the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, he spent most of his time helping survivors contact their loved ones to let them know they were ok. Carlos is a veteran of Univision, FOX, and Telemundo TV stations and a native of Modesto, California.

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Schools Locked Down for Suspect Search

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MODESTO – Two schools were placed on lockdown during a search for a suspect Friday afternoon.

The incident happened at about 1:00pm when a Stanislaus County Sheriff Deputy noticed a vehicle that had been reported stolen on Dallas Street near Glenn Avenue. The driver of the stolen vehicle appeared to be talking to someone in the area, according to officials at the scene.

The driver ran away on foot as deputies made their approach. The man jumped fences through a yard and fled into an alleyway. The Stanislaus Sheriff Air Unit spotted the man making his way into a yard on Las Vegas Street.

Bret Harte Elementary and Hanshaw Middle School were placed on lockdown as a search team was organized. Within a few minutes the man was located hiding under a vehicle and quickly detained without incident.

By 2:00pm the lockdowns were lifted. No injuries were reported.

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Stockton Police Investigate Fatal Shooting

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STOCKTON – Police investigated the fatal shooting of a man in broad daylight Tuesday afternoon.

At about 3:30pm Officers responded to the 900 block of Porter Avenue for a report of a shooting. A 29 year old man was found at the scene suffering from at least one gunshot wound. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital where he died from his injuries.

Residents in the area reported hearing a gunshot shortly before police arrived.

Porter Avenue was closed by authorities while detectives responded to investigate the case. No suspect information or motive was available Tuesday night.

Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact police at (209) 937-8377 or Crime Stoppers at (209) 946-0600 where callers can remain anonymous.

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Woman Involved in Amber Alert Found Safe

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MODESTO – The woman involved in a recent Amber Alert that involved children and a suspect found in Modesto was found safe Monday, authorities said.

Mariela Costello, 32, was found safe although further details regarding her location were not provided.

Costello was identified as a previously unreported missing person by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office. Out of state relatives became concerned when they did not hear from her sometime around September 16th.

Investigators turned their focus on 34 year old Nicholas Zeko who told authorities he left the woman in Moreno Valley, but kept her wallet and cell phone. Authorities issued an Amber Alert after Zeko fled with their two children, claiming their lives were in imminent danger.

Zeko and the two children were found in Modesto at the Tiki Lodge on McHenry Avenue. A Modesto Police officer noticed his SUV that had its trim freshly painted. Zeko was quickly detained without incident.

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