PHOENIX — A patrol officer spotted a suspected kidnapper's car and aided in the rescue of a 5-year-old girl, who was found uninjured in what police are calling Phoenix's "Christmas miracle."
Natalie Flores was rescued at about 9:30 p.m. Friday, more than seven hours after she was scooped up by a stranger while playing with her sisters outside their Phoenix apartment building.
"She is alive and well," police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill said.
Hill credited a "very alert" policeman with taking quick action after spotting what appeared to be the suspect's vehicle driving on a west Phoenix avenue, even though the license plate differed from reports.
Officer Mike Burns pulled alongside and "saw a suspect that matched the description and thought he saw a small child," Hill told The Associated Press.
He said the pickup sped off, and Burns gave chase and alerted the force. Officers put spike strips across the road several blocks away that punctured the suspect's tires, causing him to crash on the roadside.
The man took off on foot but was caught and arrested a block away after a brief struggle.
"She is alive and well thanks to the timely diligence of officer Burns," Hill said. "It is rare in stranger abduction cases so much time can pass without a tragic ending. This was truly a Christmas miracle."
Police said the suspect is a 45-year-old man, but they haven't released his name and or any other details.
Hill said the man was being questioned by police and held on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault on a police officer and felony pursuit.
The sergeant said Natalie appeared to be in good shape but was being examined by health officials.
Police received the call that Natalie had been taken at about 2:15 p.m. An Amber Alert was issued, and authorities began combing the area on foot, by car and with helicopters.
Hill said the child had been playing in a common area at the apartment complex with her two sisters, ages 7 and 9, when a man parked his brown pickup in a nearby parking lot and walked over to them carrying a camera.
"He physically grabbed the 7-year-old girl and forcibly took a photo of her," Hill said.
The man then forced Natalie into the truck and drove away. Witnesses reported that as the man was fleeing, he hit a parked car before entering southbound 19th Avenue.
Natalie and her sisters had been staying at an apartment in the complex with an aunt who has legal custody of them, Hill said. The girls' parents live separately out of state.
After the abduction, Natalie's older sister went to a neighbor's apartment and pounded on the door, The Arizona Republic reported. The woman who answered, Donna Reed, said the girl was carrying a ball and appeared to be shaking.
"She said some man just took her little sister," Reed told the newspaper. "She was a nervous wreck."
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Reed called 911.