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    Abducted 5-year-old boy found

    Taken from his apartment complex Monday, he is found 80 miles away.

    By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 2, 2002


    photo
    [Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
    Joe Perry carries the 5-year-old son of his fiance to their home at the Savannah Trace complex after the boy's return. The boy had been left by his kidnapper in a Sumter County trash bin and was found by a stranger next to a highway.
    The boy's playmates watched the kidnapper drive off with him Monday, the 5-year-old screaming and pounding on the windows of the dirty white truck.
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    Ten hours later, the boy was found by a stranger next to a highway, alive but hurting and 80 miles from home.

    "All I did was let my kid out the door," said his mother, Julie Alon, moments after bringing her son home to their Clearwater apartment Tuesday afternoon.

    Police were searching for the boy's abductor Tuesday night but had scant clues. They didn't know which way the man headed after leaving the boy in a trash bin outside a closed KFC on State Road 48, just off I-75 near Bushnell.

    "We definitely need to catch this guy," said Lt. Bobby Carruthers of the Sumter County Sheriff's Office. "Thank God it turned out like it did."

    The only description police have comes from the boy and his friends.

    The kidnapper drove to the apartment complex in a white pickup truck with tinted windows, an extended cab and a gray interior, the sides covered with decals of ice cream cones and others reading "Stone Cold Steve Austin." He stopped and either grabbed the child or lured him into the truck, and drove off.

    Police said the kidnapper is white, thin and has black hair, possibly shoulder length. He is between 5 feet 7 and 5 feet 11, and wore a black and white jacket, dark blue jeans and brown dress shoes.

    Alon choked back tears Tuesday as she stood outside her apartment at the Savannah Trace complex at 2690 Drew St., the same complex where an 8-year-old vanished in September 2000.

    She delivered a message to the kidnapper: "You might have done a good thing by letting him go, but you know what you've done. And we're going to get you."

    The boy, whose last name is different than his mother's, is not being identified because police say he may have been sexually assaulted.

    Alon said he was "very scared," but happy to be safe and already asking to play with his Hot Wheels.

    [Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
    "All I did was let my kid out the door," said Julie Alon, who choked back tears after being reunited with her son Tuesday in Clearwater.

    Mother and son were reunited Tuesday morning at the Sheriff's Office. The exhausted boy, finally asleep, awoke to find his mother there.

    "He grabbed me and hugged me," she said.

    Then they headed for home, where Alon's family had decorated their apartment with balloons and a "welcome home" banner. Her parents stood outside Monday afternoon, anxiously waiting for their grandson to arrive.

    "I don't believe he is alive," said the boy's grandfather, Jacob Alon. "We were expecting the worst, but we kept our hope."

    Then Alon and her fiance returned, rushing the boy inside amid a few hurried hugs. Afterward, Alon came outside to discuss the ordeal.

    Alon said she can't help but think her son's abduction is tied to the disappearance of Zachary Bernhardt, who was 8 years old when he vanished from his Savannah Trace apartment in September 2000.

    "Hopefully Zachary is somewhere out there, too," Alon said.

    Clearwater police have found no connection to the two abductions and have seen no particular dangers at Savannah Trace, said Sgt. Doug Griffith.

    "That area is no more or less trouble than any other area we have," he said. "I wouldn't say the apartment complex was unsafe."

    Even so, residents wondered about a link between the two as they stood in the New Year's Day sun, watching their children and talking about their fears. Was the kidnapper someone who lives there? Was he watching the complex? Would he return?

    "It kind of freaks me out," said Carl Ulrich as he boosted his son Keaton, 2, onto a play gym next to the parking lot where the boy was abducted. "I keep my kid by me all the time. I don't even let my 9- and 10-year-olds go out the door. If they go, I go with them."

    Brandy Vasta moved into the complex with her mother three months ago. Because Vasta's young nieces often visit, she and her mother already are planning to move.

    "I'm glad they found him," Vasta said. "But we can't live here. It's crazy. We want them to be safe."

    - Police ask that anyone with information about either abduction contact them at 562-4242 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-873-8477.

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