Adrian Kulesza

On Wednesday evening, the New Haven Police Department conducted a citywide search to recover a stolen vehicle with two young children inside of it.

At around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, officers responded to the Roberto Clemente Elementary School on Columbus Avenue after receiving reports of the stolen car. The owner of the car had left her two children — a 9-month-old girl and a 5-year-old boy — inside the running vehicle in order to pick up another child from the school. According to New Haven Assistant Police Chief Karl Jacobson, the perpetrator was a 14-year-old boy who intended to steal the car but unwittingly took the children with him. The children were later dropped off at secluded Rice Field near East Rock Park, where they were recovered by a “Good Samaritan” and returned to their mother, Jacobson said. Two suspects were arrested for their involvement on Thursday.

“Every officer available in the city and detective was out on the streets,” Jacobson said. “It’s very clear that these kids did not mean to steal a car with children in it. As soon as they realized that, they tried to remedy it — probably not in the greatest way.”

After officers began their search, NHPD officer Jeremy Mastroianni identified both the stolen car and the driver. While the 14-year-old driver escaped on Wednesday evening, Mastroianni was familiar with the suspect from previous criminal incidents and arrested him on Thursday with a warrant for another theft. The police later recovered the vehicle at EbLens, a clothing store in West Haven.

On Thursday, an 18-year-old suspect who allegedly stole items from the car was also arrested. It remains unclear to officers whether the accomplice was in the car when it was stolen.

The driver admitted that he  physically removed the children from his car after noticing their presence and dropped them off in the field to avoid being caught. According to Jacobson, the boy claimed that he had seen another driver approaching, and hoped that they would pick up the children.

Kasandra Montiero, a New Haven resident, found the two children on her way home from work, after rush hour traffic prompted her to take a different route.

“The baby was in the car seat and the little boy was huddled with her,” Montiero said on Wednesday night. “No tears, and he was holding on to his sister like he was protecting her.”

The two children were deemed uninjured after being taken to Yale New Haven Hospital. They are now back in the custody of their mother. Jacobson mentioned that their mother was in close proximity to the car when it was stolen and that the New Haven Police Department would “take everything into account” in deciding whether to charge the mother.

Jacobson warned that this type of car theft is extremely common in New Haven. On the streets, the specific crime is termed a “runner” — stealing a running car that has been left with the keys inside it. A similar episode occurred in November of last year, when two men hijacked a car on State Street that happened to contain a 4-year-old child inside.

According to Compstat, motor vehicle theft in New Haven as of Nov. 3 is exactly the same to date as it was in 2018 — 540 incidents.

Meera Shoaib | meera.shoaib@yale.edu