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Key to freedom: A safety pin

Published February 28, 2007

Clay Moore, 13, attends a news conference Tuesday with his mother, Traci Kelle, in Bradenton. He was kidnappped at gunpoint while waiting for his school bus on Friday in north Manatee County.
[Getty Images]

As the red truck carrying 13-year-old Clay Moore jostled down a Parrish dirt lane, the kidnapped boy nervously tugged at a safety pin holding together a tear in his coat sleeve.

The truck stopped. The kidnapper forced Clay out and started walking him into the woods.

In a flash of inspiration, the boy discreetly slipped the safety pin into his mouth, moments before being bound, gagged and blindfolded.

What came next was an escape that was part persistence, part ingenuity, part carnival-game precision; a "MacGyver-like" spate of actions by the boy that may have saved his life, according to his family and the Manatee County sheriff.

Details from Clay's daring escape came at a news conference Tuesday as authorities continued to scour the area for Vicente Ignacio Beltran-Moreno, 22, who they say kidnapped Clay for ransom from a bus stop Friday at gunpoint in a brazen abduction that captivated the state.

Tuesday, Clay stood straight with his fists lightly clenched while his parents spoke to a bevy of reporters. He remained silent, sat down and held his mother's hand while his stepfather told of his escape.

In the kidnapper's pickup truck Friday, Clay kept fidgeting with the pin holding together a tear in the sleeve of his hooded, school-uniform jacket. He had ripped it inadvertently, his stepfather Steve Kelle said, and his parents had refused to buy him another one because "it was kind of his fault."

The boy was so nervous he broke the pin. But he had the forethought to pop it in his mouth as his kidnapper pulled the truck over to some woods.

"I just thought it'd be helpful," he told his stepfather later.

The kidnapper bound Clay's hands with duct tape, blindfolded him, and gagged him with the boy's own sock. He tied him to a tree and went away. Clay waited.

"After a while, he felt the guy had left," Kelle said. "So he pushed the sock out of his mouth. ... In doing that, the safety pin actually dropped to the ground."

Perspiration helped him jiggle his blindfold to see, and Clay grabbed a stick with his mouth. He used the stick to pick the pin up from off the ground and carefully drop it into his bound hands.

He began using the needle point to tear at the tape. It took a half-hour or maybe an hour, Kelle said, but the boy freed himself, ran to a farmer and called his stepfather.

Kelle had been receiving frantic calls all day and didn't recognize the number on the screen. He almost didn't answer, but something told him to pick up.

"I heard a voice as calm as if he was calling from a friend's house," Kelle said. "Steve, it's Clay and I've been kidnapped."

Tuesday, Manatee Sheriff Charlie Wells marveled at the escape telling reporters, "I want to challenge you to do something.

"Take a little duct tape and tie it around your arms and see how easy you can get out of it," he said.

The sheriff said he had tried it after hearing of Clay's escape.

"It's not easy," he said, "even with a safety pin."

[Last modified February 28, 2007, 00:52:04]

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