SAYVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Frantic Long Island parents learned their special needs son has been found safe after police say the youth was kidnapped by an online predator.
The teenager was found uninjured at a rest stop in Virginia by state police and sheriff deputies hundreds of miles from his home, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Thursday.
“He left his home telling parents he was going to get ice cream at an ice cream store,” Suffolk County Police Acting Commissioner Stuart Cameron said.
The 15-year-old left his landscaped home and pedaled his bike down the street to the local ice cream shop. His bicycle was found abandoned in woods behind a row of stores after his concerned parents called 911.
“I am just happy that he is alive and they found him. The fact that he was in Virginia is very scary,” neighbor Lisa Maccone said.
Police said the harrowing crime began innocently enough. The teen was playing Minecraft online, unaware he was being manipulated by an older man, 19-year-old James Howard Thomas of Cookville, Tennessee.
“At some point they moved into this private chat room where they could speak in complete privacy, and, again, this particular application is not monitored,” Cameron said.
Police said Thomas then convinced the boy to meet him near the ice cream store and they drove off, purportedly toward the kidnapper’s home state of Tennessee.
Using advanced technology, detectives were able to track the car and phone some 500 miles away to a rest area in Virginia, where cops moved in. The youth was not injured.
Sayville neighbors said the mom closely monitors her son.
“She was very on top of that, very on top of what he did. So how he did it without her knowing is beyond me, and that’s the scary part,” Janette Mazanek said.
“The community found out about what was going on. It seemed like everybody was all-in in their efforts to do whatever they could to help bring this to a positive conclusion,” Christopher Kroeger said.
“A 20-year-old taking a 15-year-old away from his home clearly could have ended tragically,” Cameron said.
State police in Virginia arrested the suspect and he was extradited to Long Island, where he is facing a second-degree kidnapping charge.
Police also said voluntary consent is not recognized with a 15-year-old juvenile on the spectrum.
Jennifer McLogan returned to WCBS-TV in 1993 to cover Long Island after first reporting for the station in 1982.More from Jennifer McLogan