The sun was setting and their shift ending when the call came in on July 27: A 4-year-old boy reported missing at Santa Ana’s Jerome Park.
The child was attending a birthday party and, like many of his friends, was running on the playground when he disappeared.
Duke 1 had just finished a two-hour patrol flight and was making its final descent when the crew made the decision to self-dispatch, even though the call was routine in nature.
A quick glance to the fuel gauge let pilot SAPD Cpl. Jeff Van Es and OCSD Deputy Brian Stockbridge know they had about 30 minutes of flight time left.
Thirty minutes would be more than enough.
Over Duke’s PA system, the crew repeated the child’s name, what he was wearing and his physical description as they circled overhead.
After about 15 minutes of searching and making announcements, residents starting calling dispatch to report a suspicious man in his 20s with a little boy matching the description.
The man was a few blocks from the park walking with the boy near a shopping center at McFadden Avenue and Sullivan Street.
Callers reported the man was attempting to solicit money from passersby.
Thanks to the alerts from Duke, citizens spotted the boy and questioned adult with him, who initially claimed to be his father.
The suspect became nervous and fled.
A group of Good Samaritans kept the boy safe until authorities arrived.
Santa Ana PD arrested the suspect. The man admitted to investigators he kidnapped the boy with the intent to sexually assault him.
The suspect was booked on suspicion of kidnapping for the purpose of lewd acts with a child and kidnapping.
Santa Ana Police Department at their annual Employee Recognition and Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, April 26, honored Van Es and Stockbridge with the Chief’s Award.
The suspect currently is in jail and facing life in prison.
We are proud of the work of the #OCSD Duke crew!