Samaritan Chases Down Suspect Who Stole Elderly Man's Car with Age 2 Granddaughter in Backseat

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When you see someone struggling through something and you have similar circumstances, it’s easy to feel empathy and recognize their pain on a more personal level.

When you’re a parent and the situation involves children, it can bring out the protective side of you in seconds flat. That was certainly the case for a man in Phoenix, Arizona.

Ernaldo Varela, a young father of a 3-year-old and 2-year-old, had just picked his wife up from work when a roadside gathering caught his attention. People were screaming, so he pulled over to see what was happening.

“I was just driving by, I seen all these people screaming,” he told 12News, “and then that’s when I pulled over and I asked them what’s going on, and that’s when everyone was screaming, saying ‘he tried to take a baby, he tried to take a baby!'”

A grandfather had driven to Fry’s with his 2-year-old granddaughter in the car. As he stepped out of his vehicle, 25-year-old Cynthia Gracia reportedly approached and asked him for money.

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While he was distracted with Gracia, her 26-year-old boyfriend, Joe Velazquez, allegedly squeezed past, jumped in the car and took off with the granddaughter still inside.

“I instantly snapped!” Valera said. “And you know I ran after him. When I hear he was trying to take a baby, I could not let him get away.”

Velazquez only made it a few streets before deciding to drop the car off in a nearby neighborhood.

Perhaps he hadn’t realized a child was involved when he’d first targeted the elderly man, but either way, he abandoned the car and took off running leaving the 2-year-old in the car, unharmed and doing just fine.

But Valera was close behind and wasn’t about to let the criminal get away. The man was armed, and when Varela reached him, the kidnapper got his knife out and started slashing at him.

“He managed to pull out his knife from out of his pocket,” Varela said. “He swung at me a couple times, missed, finally he got my finger, and then that’s when I let go.”

Fortunately, he’d managed to detain the suspect long enough for the cops to take over from there and arrest the man and his girlfriend.

Gracia had also attempted to hide in a house in the neighborhood, but she picked the wrong house. A 14-year-old who lived at the home spotted the woman, grabbed her by the hair, and pinned her to the floor until cops arrived.

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The suspects are in custody and facing charges for kidnapping and aggravated assault.

Other than seven stitches and a pair of white shoes ruined by his own blood, Valera is fine and has no regrets.

“I have two little girls, you know,” he said. “I have a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old, and there’s no way I could let something like that fly. If I could do something about it, I’m gonna do something about it.”

The grateful grandfather offered to at least buy Valera new shoes, but the hero said, “I don’t need anything, I’m just glad the baby girl’s OK.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking