MANATEE COUNTY - A child abduction case that shocked the nation because of the kidnapper's brazen scheme and the victim's ingenious escape is vexing authorities and leaving parents with a sense of dread.
Authorities on Sunday identified a Mexican national and former farmworker as the target of an international manhunt, wanted in what investigators called a rare case of kidnapping for ransom.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are looking for Vicente Ignacio Beltran-Moreno, 22, who authorities say plotted a kidnapping rooted in a desperate attempt to generate cash. Unlike most abductors, authorities say he selected his victim at random, snatching a boy at gunpoint Friday in Parrish, in front of other children at a school bus stop.
The ransom plan collapsed because of the wits employed by his 13-year-old victim, Clay Moore, whom detectives affectionately compare with the TV character MacGyver. The resourceful teen saved a safety pin he found in his abductor's pickup and later used it to escape from his bonds.
The sheriff's SWAT team raided Beltran-Moreno's home in Samoset early Sunday, finding a ransom note in a garbage can as well as duct tape - the material used to bind Clay on a farm in rural east Manatee County.
Most child abductions, Sheriff Charlie Wells said, are sexual-based or part of family custody battles.
The motive in the abduction of Clay Moore shocked veteran investigators.
"This was an absolute kidnapping for ransom," a rare crime in the United States, Wells said, adding that during 41 years in law enforcement he had never seen a ransom note.
Authorities suspect that Beltran-Moreno left Florida, and perhaps the country.
During the raid on Beltran-Moreno's home at 3719 17th St. Court E., deputies seized the maroon Ford Ranger XLT truck they said he used to abduct the boy.
Detectives found the handwritten ransom note in a garbage can outside the house. It was scribbled on several pages and demanded different amounts of money. The letter does not mention Clay's name.
Detectives do not know whether Beltran-Moreno wrote the note. But the writer presented this threat: Surrender money or the victim will be left to die.
Authorities are working to determine whether anyone else participated in the ransom plot.
"We don't have evidence that there was a lot of preplanning," Wells said. "We do have evidence that it was planned."
Putting A Name On The Face
A student at Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Clay was abducted at gunpoint Friday at about 8:50 a.m. a block from his home in the Kingsfield Lakes neighborhood.
His friends scrambled to a nearby house, where deputies were called. Authorities issued an Amber Alert and launched a statewide search for the boy and his captor.
"I think it was a random act, that this kid provided an opportunity for him. It was easy to abduct him," Wells said Sunday. "He takes him out, ties him up. And obviously what threw everything into a spin is when the kid escaped."
The abductor took Clay to a wooded area at Falkner Farm, off State Road 64 in rural East Manatee County.
Clay, authorities said, used a safety pin and his teeth to escape the heavy-duty tape his abductor used to bind his arms and feet to a tree. The boy returned to the crop fields Saturday with detectives and provided valuable information about his ordeal, including a description of his captor that was used to make a sketch of the man.
Detectives armed with fliers bearing that sketch questioned migrant farm workers at Falkner throughout the day Saturday. At first, workers were called in from the fields randomly. Some recognized the man's face, but not his name. One person would suggest another worker, who would offer up another.
The language barrier hindered the question-and-answer sessions. A sheriff's office translator helped out, but interviews that normally would take 15 minutes took much longer.
Authorities first got the man's nickname - "Nacho" - before a relative of the suspect who works at Falkner identified him as Beltran-Moreno.
Elias Beltran, 56, was called into the farm's office Saturday and asked to identify the man in a photo that deputies handed him. The photo was of Beltran's nephew, Beltran-Moreno, who came to the United States about four years ago from Sinaloa, Mexico.
Beltran said he told the deputies Beltran-Moreno's name. He said deputies also interviewed numerous others who recalled Beltran-Moreno from the three years that he worked in the fields for Falkner.
"He was a good worker," said Beltran, who said that the job at Falkner had been his nephew's first employment in the United States.
Beltran-Moreno left Falkner about a year ago but continued working as a farmworker, but for another company, Beltran said. Sheriff's officials said Beltran-Moreno had been working for a company that installs pool screens.
A Predawn Raid
The investigation blossomed swiftly after investigators put a name to the face. Authorities got a bead on an address in Bradenton and set up undercover surveillance around the house.
Nobody showed up. Windows were covered with sheets and towels, including one bearing characters from the TV cartoon "Rugrats." At about 3 a.m., a judge put her name on arrest and search warrants; two hours later, the sheriff's SWAT team barged into the house.
Neighbors heard the commotion and later learned about their neighbor, the target.
"You know you can't get away with something like this," said next-door neighbor Tim McRee, 50, a friend of Clay Moore's family who helped in the search last week. "What was this guy thinking?"
The Suspect's History
Authorities on Sunday were researching about 10 variations of Beltran-Moreno's name to determine whether he has a criminal history.
Beltran-Moreno lived in a house owned by his girlfriend's father, Juventino Pureco, who has ties to Falkner-owned farms.
Didn't know if this made national news. This was very close to me. Kid was taken by gunpoint then tied to a tree and left there. He got lose and got home safely. My wife's bosses Husband works for the Sarasota police and he was flying the helicopter looking for him