A brave young girl had the wherewithal to dial 911 when a woman attempted to hijack her family vehicle and drive across the border to Mexico. Alongside the quick-thinking eight-year-old was her toddler brother. When Rodney Cole sped into the local store to pick up some hair ties for his daughter, Malayha, he thought nothing of leaving her and his son in the car for a couple minutes.
With the car running and the air conditioning switched on, a woman allegedly pounced on the vehicle, jumped into driver’s seat and sped off, according to a statement from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office.
“She looked at the car, saw it running, saw it had kids in it, and then she just got it in it and drove away,” Malayha explained. “I saw my Dad coming out the store, and I saw him at the window. I yelled ‘Daddy’ but she rolled the window up.”
Cole explained how he frantically gave chase on foot, almost catching up with his hijacked vehicle. “I almost caught [them] but she started driving erratically,” Cole said. “She got to the light and ran the light and made a left, and I was just stuck in the middle of the street crying and bawling. I didn’t know what to do. These are my babies.”
“He saw me honking and I pointed at his car and he just started running to chase his car,” one witness told NBC San Diego. He said he wanted to do more, but was feeding his own kid in his passenger seat when the kidnapping transpired.
As her father faded into the distance, Malayha decided it was time to take action to save herself and her little brother – she confronted the kidnapper.
“I said ‘If you don’t take us back to our daddy, I’ll call police,’” she explained in an interview with her father. “And then she threatened me and said ‘If you don’t give me the phone, I’ll drive in circles and crash into this car.’ ”
Malayha, completely unfazed, called the cops and explained the situation clearly – she noted that road signs indicated they were headed for Mexico. “I said, ‘I see signs that say Mexico border.’ She tried to get the phone from me but I moved away,” Malayha added. Immediately, hundreds of officers were put on high alert, and border control was informed of the situation. Malayha’s information was good. Just an hour later, authorities found the vehicle at the San Ysidro border checkpoint.
They immediately arrested Leslie Esparanza Saenz, 26. According to PEOPLE, she has been charged with four felonies, including carjacking, kidnapping to commit a robbery, vehicle theft and threatening to cause death. Authorities in San Diego have used the case as a timely reminder to parents: never, ever, leave your kids unattended.
“I’m just thankful for God and I’m very, very thankful for the San Diego Police Department and every other law enforcement agency that joined in and found my kids within an hour,” Cole said through choked-up tears. “Each five minutes that went by seemed like a day.”
“I’m very proud of her,” he added.
“This is a harrowing situation for any parent and terrifying for the children involved,” stated Pete Flores, Director of Field Operations for the San Diego CBP Field Office. “We appreciate our partnership with the San Diego Police Department for getting us this information so our officers could react quickly and stop the car and driver before they made it any further. It may be a part of the job, but being able to help safely reunite these children with their father is especially rewarding.”