A 3-year-old girl who was taken from her Pennsylvania home early Friday amid threats from the girl's father was found safe in Manhattan when a traffic agent spotted his vehicle, police say.
Ava Byrne was taken by her father, 24-year-old Robert Byrne, from their home in Nescopeck, a small borough about 10 miles outside Wilkes-Barre, shortly after midnight, according to local newspaper The Citizens Voice.
Byrne told the girl's mother, 29-year-old Morgan Barela, that voices in his head were telling him that Barela and the kids were in danger, Barela told The Citizens Voice. When she was asked who was after them, Byrne said he didn't know and that the voices said they'd be safer at Barela's mother's house.
The two got into an fight, and "the last thing he said was he's gonna shoot me, my kids and himself. And then he took off with our daughter," Barela told the newspaper in an interview posted to the paper's website.
He broke her phone on his way out shortly after midnight, said Barela, who is eight months pregnant.
It's not clear why Byrne headed to New York. A New York City traffic enforcement agent was directing traffic on 34th Street and 10th Avenue Friday morning when a driver pulled up to him and asked if he'd gotten an Amber alert on his cellphone.
The traffic agent, MG Ali, said he did, he later told reporters. The driver told him, "The car is right behind the truck."
Ali went to see the car and verified it was the one listed on the Amber alert. He went to the driver in the wanted vehicle and told him to pull over.
"The guy complies and pulls over," Ali recounted. "He didn't ask any questions."
Just as Ali notified his base and NYPD, two NYPD officers, who were also responding to a 911 call regarding the Amber alert, pulled up. Ali flagged them down and pointed them in the direction of the vehicle. When they walked over, the driver had gotten out and was walking away with the child in his arms.
The officers stopped the suspect, and as other police units showed up, "we were able to remove the child very willingly," said NYPD officer Sean Mooney. The suspect was then placed in handcuffs.
Mooney said the girl appeared to be healthy, and was wearing a T-shirt and shorts. She was taken to Bellevue Hospital as a precaution.
The suspect didn't have much to say, according to the officers.
"He was hesitant when we asked who the child was," but didn't offer much else, said Mooney.
Byrne said nothing as he was led from the police station in handcuffs Friday night. He's expected to be extradited back to Pennsylvania Saturday. It's not clear if he has an attorney.
Barela was seen leaving the station with Ava. She told reporters, "I'm happy and I just want to go home and spend time with my daughter."