On Jan. 2, 2016, Rita Leon drove up to a grocery store in Albuquerque. She wanted to just fill up a water jug so she left her three-year-old daughter, Coraline, buckled in the car 10 feet away from her.
That’s when Rita’s worst nightmare came true. A man jumped into Rita’s car and sped off… with Coraline in the back seat.
“I basically just started screaming,” Leon told Albuquerque Journal. “I’m right in front of the grocery store, and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs. I really don’t know everything that happened after that. I went into a state of hysteria — for the next several hours, I was just a complete, raging basket case.”
An AMBER alert was sent out and law enforcement started searching. They were able to locate the car just an hour later in a nearby thrift store parking lot.
Neither Coraline nor the suspect was nearby. Officer Chris Poccia was searching alongside a motorcycle group called Guardians of the Children. They were participating in a coordinated grid search.
Around 1 a.m., Officer Poccia noticed “a ball of purple” after he shined his spotlight over a parking lot. Curious, he decided to investigate.
As he got closer, he discovered that the “ball of purple” he noticed earlier was actually Coraline! She was bundled up in her winter coat and mittens. It was somewhere in the 20’s.
Other than being cold, she seemed to be unharmed. “Some of the Guardians were already kinda converged on my car, were talking with her, putting her jackets on her and stuff, we could tell that she was cold,” Poccia said.
Rita met them in the parking lot so she could be reunited with her daughter. She was absolutely relieved.
The video recorded from Officer Poccia’s body camera shows the emotional moment.
Poccia is a father to three children so this definitely struck a nerve. He said that he was calm in the moment, but his emotions caught up with him later that night.
He said, “I’ll be honest, on my way home, I started crying too, I was just very happy and thankful that we were able to find her.”
Poccia remains humble and doesn’t consider himself a hero for finding Coraline. He recognizes that it was a group effort.
Rita is just thankful for everyone involved. She said, “It definitely changes your perspective on life and how you look at things in general and the gratitude that you have for the small blessings. Good things come to good people, but that doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.