How police traced Charlotte Sena and the suspect in her abduction

  • Suspect’s ransom note, cellular pings vital in locating Charlotte Sena
  • NCMEC: Stranger abductions comprised about .35% of missing child cases
  • Ex-FBI agent credits 'two-pronged' investigation for rescue

(NewsNation) — Two crucial pieces of evidence provided investigators with a break in the case of the abduction of Charlotte Sena, a 9-year-old who went missing this weekend while camping with her family: A ransom note and cell phone pings.

Authorities said the suspect, 47-year-old Craig Nelson Ross Jr., left a ransom note inside the mailbox of the Sena family home around 4 a.m. Monday. A fingerprint on the ransom note matched Ross, who was in a database from a 1999 DUI case.

That hit also led investigators to his mother’s residence where law enforcement arrested him and found Sena. Ross was charged with first-degree kidnapping, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to NewsNation on Tuesday.  

Stuart Kaplan, a former FBI special agent, told NewsNation that technology used in tracking cellular pings played a vital role for law enforcement in their pursuit of a suspect.

“New technology that has been implemented with respect to capturing cellular service off of pinging,” Kaplan explained. “That is a way that law enforcement can basically throw out a web far and wide as they think is necessary to try to capture any and all cell phones that may have pinged a tower in the vicinity as to where they believe this child was abducted. That was a critical component.”

He added: “Once they identified that latent fingerprint, they went back and were able to then match up that individual with respect to apparently his cell phone activity at the time of the abduction, leading to his arrest.”

Kaplan highlighted more than 400,000 children are missing throughout the United States in 2023.

In 2022, stranger abductions comprised about .35% of missing child cases, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In the U.S., the recovery rate for high-risk kidnappings in 2011 was 97% — up from 62% in 1990, according to Just Great Lawyers. Only one out of 10,000 cases of missing children reported to the police is the victim of a murder. It emphasizes the need for swift action, collaboration, and resources to return victims safely. 

Former FBI agent and NewsNation contributor Jennifer Coffindaffer is impressed by the “quickness” of the investigation that led to the recovery of Sena.

“I liked the fact that they kept this a two-pronged investigation,” Coffindaffer said Monday on “CUOMO.”

“They fully had converged on that area and stayed searching for her while what I call the intelligence-based investigation was going on, which is really key, where they’re taking the geofencing data, they are taking the information from the interviews, they’re taking the surveillance camera information, and they’re putting it all together to make a puzzle to lead them to where she could possibly be,” she added.

The Albany-Times Union reported the suspect allegedly has a sexual abuse criminal history, citing law enforcement sources.

“One of the first things that would have been done was to get that sex offender registry and to look at every sex offender that was in a close-by proximity to this park,” Coffindaffer said. “They’re going to look at the background, they’re going to figure out where they were, and they’re going to hone in on each of those individuals in that area and dial down on those people.”

“Law enforcement is very interested in trying to identify and apprehend those individuals that may be predators. It’s not a single event. Usually, these people go out and commit multiple abductions, and it may be quite possible that he will be linked to other abductions,” Kaplan said.

Sena went missing over the weekend while riding her bike early Saturday evening at Moreau Lake State Park, a heavily wooded area some 35 miles north of Albany.

She was found alive and safe Monday.

Police tracked  Ross to a double-wide trailer owned by his mother. They made entry into the camper around 6:30 p.m. and arrested Ross, who they said put up “some resistance” and suffered some minor injuries.

Sena was found safe inside the camper, which is about two miles from the Sena home, Hochul said.

Officials issued an Amber Alert on Sunday after an exhaustive search because, “It was quite possible that an abduction had taken place,” state police Lt. Colonel Richard Mazzone said at the time. About 400 search and rescue personnel actively searched a 46-linear mile area around the state park.


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