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Seattle police rescue 9-year-old girl's after kidnapping, ransom drop, high-speed chase

Happy to Report a Happy Ending
Introduction by Scott Buhrmaster, Sr. Contributing Editor

Too often we hear of situations like the one you're about to read -- and it ending tragically. In this case, however, we're thrilled to share this happy ending. On behalf of all of us here at PoliceOne and our members across the country, kudos to all of the officers involved in this emotionally charged situation. We're all basking in the relief of this happy ending.

Seattle Police Rescue 9-Year-Old Girl's After Kidnapping, Ransom Drop, High-Speed Chase

By Nick Perry, The Seattle Times

The 9-year-old girl was collecting the mail from near her Mercer Island home when suddenly a hand closed over her mouth and a man dragged her into the back seat of an SUV and sped off.

For the next 6-1/2 hours, as she became the center of a police operation and a high-speed chase, she could not eat, drink or go to the bathroom. She was blindfolded. She had seen a gun and feared the kidnapper would point it at her head in a final standoff with police. She was not buckled in and had to cling to her seat tightly, once hitting her head.

When she should have been celebrating her 9th birthday with her family, the girl instead was praying that the man in the front seat would not harm her.

Dexter and Chunwan Lai yesterday told the story of their daughter's April 1 kidnapping, tearfully thanking police for their efforts and praising the support they have received from the Mercer Island community. They said their daughter, whom they wanted identified only by her first initial, J, was recovering remarkably well and has largely returned to her normal routine.

"We thought we may not even see her again, and we kept praying," Dexter Lai said at a press conference at Mercer Island City Hall. But through it all, "she has just been strong and strong and strong," her father said.

Charges are expected to be filed tomorrow against Kristopher Harrison Larsen, 32, who is accused of the kidnapping and who remains in King County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

Yesterday, the Lais recounted how a man called at 4:37 p.m. Thursday while they were at work in Kirkland, where they run a computer-hardware business. Chunwan Lai answered. The caller told them he had their daughter and that they had one hour to leave a ransom — or they would never see her again. The caller told them not to contact police, the Lais said.

"My brain was kind of blank," Chunwan Lai said. "At that moment, I realized he was serious, because I got to talk to my daughter."

The Lais got to speak with the girl for only a moment — she told them she was OK but didn't know where she was — before the phone went dead. The parents immediately called their home and her school to make sure she was not at either place. They also called their bank to arrange the ransom.

Dexter Lai said the family is sure they have never met Larsen and have had no connection with him. In subsequent calls, Lai said he was surprised by the man's calm and logical tone.

"He kept calling me 'sir,' and he sounded young and polite — even though the words coming out of his mouth were different," Lai said.

The Lais struggled for more than 20 minutes before deciding to call the police and FBI.

"We were so worried that if we ever contacted the police, our daughter's life would be in danger," Dexter Lai said. "But the main thing was that even if we left the ransom as demanded, we had no guarantee he would release her unharmed and free."

Police responded immediately and staked out the Factoria Mall in Bellevue for more than an hour, watching as a man picked up the ransom money. But the young girl was not dropped at the mall as the police and her family had hoped.

Dexter Lai said he almost "cracked up" as the pressure mounted, but his wife stayed calm.

Police chased the man to Seattle and back to the Eastside at speeds that reached 100 mph. The chase ended at about 10:30 p.m. on Highway 522 near Monroe, Snohomish County, after the man drove over spike strips that police had placed on the highway.

Dexter Lai remembers clearly the moment when the Lais were reunited with their daughter in Monroe. "She was so precious," he said. "She came in and said, 'I want to hug both of you,' so we both together gave her a hug."

At 1:30 a.m., the family went to a Denny's restaurant, where their daughter wolfed down a club sandwich and iced tea. J even comforted her emotional and exhausted mother by offering her a jacket as a pillow, patting her on the back and saying, "Don't worry, it's OK. I'm OK now," Dexter Lai said.

The next day, J insisted on returning to school. Since then, she has played at a friend's house and has practiced the piano. She is sleeping well, Dexter Lai said. Both J and her family thought it best she return to a normal routine.

The kidnapping happened soon after J stepped off a school bus, and it may be some time before she feels confident enough to take the bus again, Dexter Lai said. She may get counseling. She plans to belatedly celebrate her birthday this week by having a few friends attend a sleepover.

Dexter Lai said the family has decided to show its appreciation by donating some of the ransom money, which was returned by police, to law-enforcement victim-recovery programs. The deeply religious family also had forgiving words for the accused kidnapper.

"We wish he spends some time to think about how it was not worthy of him," Dexter Lai said. "We wish the grace of God would fall on him. That he would repent."

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