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tv   Nightline  ABC  November 19, 2019 12:37am-1:07am PST

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tonight -- >> help me! help me, please! >> as an 8-year-old is snatched from the arms of her mother. >> a car, a gray car just drove off. he just kidnapped my daughter. >> an accidental recording gives police a key piece of evidence. >> the person accidentally activated the ring doorbell at that time. >> now inside the desperate manhunt. >> time was against us. i just could not move fast enough. >> and the takedown with the heroes who would not give up. >> something told me to just keep listening on the call. >> down to the final confrontation and heart-stopping rescue. >> open the door! >> a special edition of "nightline," "the raid," will be right back.
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click, call or visit a store today. ♪ geeng. good evening. thanks for joining us. imagine having your daughter snatched from your arms in broad daylight. stranger abductions are not typical. only a tiny fraction of cases out of hundreds of thousands of missing children every year. but this nightmare scenario came true for one texasottot s erre t gives us a rare look at how a community of heroes came together to bring that little girl home.
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>> reporter: racing through the night streets. the destination, an unremarkable hotel in the suburbs of fort worth, texas. >> why don't you put your lights back on? >> if this guy's looking out the window, i'm not trying to let him see that we're rolling around. >> can you get me in real quick? you have the room information for room 333? i need it fast. >> reporter: the target, a small room on the third floor. >> matches the description. >> reporter: the mission, to prevent a truly worst-case scenario. tonight, eight hours that captivated a city. exclusive access inside a police raid -- >> police. open the door. >> reporter: -- raid with a little girl's life on the line. never before seen body cam footage. >> open the door! >> reporter: of the final confrontation. >> open the door! >> reporter: when every second matters. >> open it! hands! let me see your hands! get on the ground! hey, here she is!
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we got her! we got her! we got her! >> reporter: dallas/fort worth, home to more than 7.5 million people. many of them living in quiet suburban neighborhoods like this one. mile after mile of driveways and lush backyards. a place where families can safely stroll down the sidewalk. but that sense of safety was shattered on a warm saturday evening back in may. >> what is the location that you're calling about? >> hello! a car, a gray car just drove off. i think it was handicap. he just kidnapped my daughter. >> okay. >> he dragged my on the street and kidnapped my daughter. please help me. >> reporter: do you recall where you were when you got the call? >> i was at home. and i just knew that this case was different. >> reporter: sergeant amelia heise was the detective on call that day. when she got the first report.
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an 8-year-old girl snatched right out of her mother's arms. >> oh my god, my daughter was kidnapped. i'm going to [ bleep ] die! help me please! you need to find her now! he's a scary man. he was harassing us, trying to walk up and he came up and he grabbed us. he grabbed her and threw her in the car. i hopped in the car and he pushed me out of the car and he has her. please. i can't let her be gone. please! please! >> reporter: officers raced to the scene, finding the mother but also an accidental piece of evidence. one that could be critical to tracking down the kidnapper. >> help me! help me please! my daughter just got kidnapped! captured on a man's doorbell camera showing the actual abduction in progress. you can see a woman fall onto the street as the car drives away. then she pops up yelling for help. >> help me! >> reporter: you have a rare combination of you're a mom and a detective. >> i was a detective before i was a mother and then after, and
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after i became a mother that protective sense just grew. and i could really relate more to the cases and how the parents were feeling. >> we begin tonight with breaking news out of fort worth where police say a little girl is missing. >> this is security footage from a maybing home there. this has been an active scene now for hours. >> reporter: did you feel the sense of urgency right off the bat? >> i knew that we had to go, that time was against us. and that we just could not move fast enough. >> reporter: the case so heinous, federal authorities were immediately brought in. u.s. attorney erin nealy cox. >> one of the most disturbing things about this incident was the randomness of it and just the horrifying brazenness of it. >> reporter: fbi special agent chris thompson is with a special task force investigating crimes against children. >> less than 5% of the abductions tracked by the fbi nationally are true stranger abductions. he saw something that he wanted, executed on it, and unfortunately took the girl in plain sight. it seemed to escalate the level of concern that we had for the
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minor victim, that she may indeed be in grave danger and imminent danger. >> reporter: the girl's mom could give a rough description of the suspect but only a little about the car. >> what kind of vehicle were they in ma'am? >> a gray vehicle. do you remember what kind of vehicle it was? it is a gray vehicle. >> reporter: thankfully that doorbell cam provided clues to guide the manhunt. >> surprisingly, the ring doorbell video was the only piece of video. it was absolutely critical. it wasn't supposed to go off just from a passing car or from a person being observed in the street. >> reporter: it only activated because the homeowner ran outside. it's only a few precious frames of footage, but it was enough for law enforcement to call in car experts who then helped narrow down a make and model. >> if you were in that area tonight, please give police a call. >> reporter: and with that, police and the community had something specific to look for. >> the patrol response was amazing. everybody's showing up. but we're still not enough. >> we have called in additional resources.
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obviously, the fort worth police department takes this very seriously. >> reporter: did every minute, even every second feel like an eternity? >> the best way i can describe it is i felt like time was my enemy. it felt like time was flying by and that i was moving so slow, and that i just could not move fast enough. >> well, in an abduction, every minute that passes is -- the situation generally gets worse and worse for the victim. every minute that passes, your -- your likelihood of having a positive outcome goes down. >> reporter: and were tips coming in? >> absolutely. yes. >> reporter: dozens? hundreds? >> i don't know the exact number, but i know that our communications unit was overwhelmed. >> fort worth police operator 0727. what's the address you're talking about? >> reporter: 30-year-old mother of two, crystal merrill, had no idea what she was walking into when she arrived for her shift at the fort worth dispatch center that night. >> it was already very, very busy when i came onto my shift. i was a nervous wreck with it
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because i could just only imagine me walking down the street and this happening to me and my child. >> reporter: by the time she got there, the manhunt was more than four hours old. >> i had heightened senses because every call was like i'm trying to get every piece of detail and see, okay, should we -- what should -- how should we process this? is this just a broadcast? do i just let our officers know? or do we actually send a call up? and we need to go check this out. every call was like that, all the details. >> reporter: as dispatchers fielded call after call, tip after tip, crystal had no idea that by the next morning she would walk out of the call center a hero. >> don't just watch the video, help us locate this little girl. >> reporter: something else crystal didn't know at that moment, just after midnight someone had called 911 and reported they may have seen the suspect. police officers from the suburb of forest hill responded to woodspring suites, an extended stay hotel about seven miles from the street where the girl was snatched. the officers talked to the man
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in room 333. they even went inside and reportedly searched for 90 seconds, but they didn't see a child and left. we now know the kidnapped little girl was there. hidden in plain sight. we reached out to forest hill and the city declined to comment. by then, it was well into the night and most of the city was asleep. but luckily not everyone. >> the people that -- that came forward to assist in this late, late, late on a saturday night of their own accord were absolutely critical in the recovery of this child. >> reporter: around 2:00 a.m. a new 911 call. >> hi. my name's jeff king. you're looking for the missing girl. >> okay. >> reporter: on one end crystal merrill. on the other a couple of men out searching. >> we just found a ford 500 in the parking lot of a hotel. >> what hotel? >> and it looks like there's blood in the front seat. >> what hotel?
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>> i could tell he wasn't in our city. he was more so, i don't know, in shock. i transferred him over to forest hill. and i don't know. something told me to just keep listening on the call to see what was going on. >> reporter: normally, her job would be done at that point, but her decision to stay on the call turns the tide. >> forest hill 911. what is the location? >> so i stay on the call. and the operator was a female on the line. it was like she already knew where he was at. she knew what hotel it was. >> what seat is the one you think there's blood? >> passenger seat. >> passenger seat on the front? >> front passenger seat has blood on it it looks like. >> i said, well, i don't know. this sounds like something we should check out. it wouldn't hurt for us to go out there. >> reporter: crystal gets the alert out to the fort worth police and in minutes she's tracking officer after officer as they arrive at the scene. now all she can do is wait and see if her instinct was right. >> she realized the seriousness
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of it. and officers who heard it, they also realized the seriousness of it. >> reporter: and was that the moment that led to the beginning of the end? >> yes. >> reporter: up next, inside the rescue operation. >> open the [ bleep ] door! >> reporter: and who authorities say is the biggest hero of them all. y their dishwasher doesn't get everything clean. i tell them, it may be your detergent... that's why more dishwasher brands recommend cascade platinum. it's specially-designed with the soaking, scrubbing and rinsing built right in. cascade platinum's unique actionpacs dissolve quickly... remove stuck-on food. . . for sparkling-clean dishes, the first time. choose the detergent that lets your dishwasher do the dishes! cascade platinum. the number one recommended brand in north america.
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"nightline," "the raid," continues. here again, pierre thomas. >> reporter: it's nearly 2:00 in the morning in fort worth, texas. eight hours into the manhunt to find a kidnapper and to rescue the little girl he abducted.
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at this moment, a 911 call has police racing toward hope. this officer's body camera is rolling as his squad car approaches a hotel in an outer suburb. >> why don't you put your lights back on? >> if this guy's looking out the windows, i'm not trying to let him see that we're rolling around. >> reporter: once parked, time is of the essence. the officers must figure out if they have the right place and the right suspect. they immediately check out the vehicle reported in the 911 call and what looks like blood in the front passenger seat. armed with the room number from the original 911 call, the officer with the body camera heads inside. only to find the front desk shuttered for the night. >> can you can get me in real quick? can you get me in real quick? do you work here? >> yes. >> do you have the room information for room 333?
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i need it like fast. >> okay. >> reporter: provided in that paperwork, a copy of the man's license. >> 224 adb. it matches the description. >> reporter: at this point just minutes after arriving on scene, a group of police and task force agents have enough information to make an attempt to get inside room 333. >> they of course were exposing themselves to dangers. we knew very little about the subject. we didn't know if he was sitting behind there with a rifle. >> open the door. >> but i seriously doubt if any of them even give it a passing thought. their mission at that point in their lives was to get in that door and find that girl. >> open the door! police department! open the door! >> hold on, man. i'm getting dressed. >> open the [ bleep ] door! >> break it.
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>> open it! [ bleep ]. >> hands! let me see your hands! step out here! step out! >> reporter: the suspect is pulled out of the room. the team then rushes in searching for the girl, who is nowhere to be seen. >> here she is! >> got her. we got her. we got her. we got her. >> reporter: the officers' relief and excitement clear as they tell everyone, the girl is here and alive. >> whoo! >> in custody. we have her. [ bleep ]. >> the little girl had been forced to hide in a storage bucket, covered in dirty laundry. it was the same trick that worked the first time police searched room 333 but did not work this time. >> we got her! >> the subject had actually threatened the victim -- >> we need amt -- >> -- that he was going to harm her and her family if she made any sort of outcry or tried to notify the police. >> can we get her out? come on, sweetheart.
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you're okay? >> yeah. >> you're safe. we've got you. you're going to be okay. [ bleep ]. >> reporter: their excitement clearly tempered by the anger and anxiety that someone would kidnap and attack a child. >> let's get her in here so she can sit down. do me a favor. >> reporter: that man right there, the good samaritan who made the 911 call, a pastor who actually knows the family. on the phone with the girl's dad. delivering the good news. >> police officer m 727. what's the address? >> reporter: back at the call and dispatch center crystal merrill finally found out what happened. >> oh, man. it was like a tochb bricks had been knocked off of me. i took a moment. i did cry at work, like after they called the girl. i think it was just because my adrenaline was so high and a sense of like oh, we found her. >> reporter: she got emotional again when she got home. realizing her determination helped return a child to her
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mother's loving arms. >> i went straight in and i just hugged my babies and i was crying. i'm getting emotional now thinking about it. and i was crying. it was just a lot. you could just think oh, that could have been me. and it was good to know my babies were at home. but that little girl, she didn't get to -- she wasn't at home with her mom. she wasn't safe. >> but thanks to you, she was. now. >> i just say it was -- it was god. god. god led all of that. >> i went home, and i sat down at the breakfast table. and everything that i wouldn't allow myself to feel that night, it hit me and i felt it. >> reporter: were you able to hug your kids? >> yes. yes. very much so.
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>> reporter: in the aftermath of the arrest, u.s. attorney erin nealy cox picked up the case. >> i'm a mother of three children, all girls, one of whom is an 8-year-old, just like the victim in this case. >> reporter: you're kidding. >> no. and so to me, it was important to bring this particular defeanto justice. case pernally, getting an ed the indictmentl kidnapping charges. >> reporter: did you find yourselves in -- in brief moments thinking about what the mom was going through? >> oh, absolutely. i mean, we -- we met with the family, who is just so courageous and inspirational to me personally about how they were dealing with this. >> reporter: the 51-year-old suspect pleaded not guilty. but in court, nealy cox played parts of his police interrogation tape. >> i scoped it out pretty good. >> reporter: where he admitted to kidnapping the girl. it took a jury just 10 minutes to convict him. he was later sentenced to life in prison. >> nobody's ever going to be victimized by this man again. if you're sitting at home and that amber alert goes off on your phone, it doesn't mean you
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can't do something. >> reporter: nealy cox says the case has had a profound impact on not just her but everyone involved. especially those officers there at the rescue. >> and some of them are still dealing with the memories of that day. >> they really dealt with it like they would their own child and finding this child. >> reporter: but for erin nealy cox, amelia heise, crystal merrill, and all those officers the real measure of success is not found in a courtroom. it's making sure that the youngest hero, a little girl who was kidnapped and terrorized, can do more than just survive, she can thrive. >> she's definitely the hero of this story. she's -- she's doing great. i mean, she's incredibly resilient. she's got love of a strong family, who are just as brave as she is. and i, like you, think she's going to do extraordinary things one day. >> i know that she's going to be with me for the rest of my life. i look forward to seeing her grow and to see her experience all the wonderful things that life can -- can give to her from here on out.
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>> reporter: for "nightline" i'm pierre thomas in fort worth, texas. may your holidays glow bright and all your dreams take flight. lease the c 300 sedan for just $399 a month at the mercedes-benz winter event. hurry in today. i don't have to worry about that, do i? harmful bacteria lurk just below the gum line. crest gum detoxify, voted product of the year. it works below the gum line to neutralize harmful plaque bacteria and help reverse early gum damage. gum detoxify, from crest. instead of using aloe, try the cooling, soothing relief or preparation h, because your derriere deserves expert care.
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and tonight pierre thomas tells us a representative for the family confirms the young girl is doing well. but she is one of the lucky ones. last year, roughly 400,000 thousand children were reported missing in the u.s. if you have any information the national center for missing and exploited children is always open. dial 1-800-843-5678. that's nightline. you can always catch our full episodes on hulu. thanks for staying up with us.
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