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News / Northwest

Florida couple drove to WA to kidnap baby, prosecutors say

By Sara Jean Green, The Seattle Times
Published: February 28, 2024, 7:28am

A Florida man posed as an Amazon delivery driver as part of an elaborate plan made with his female accomplice to kidnap a baby girl from her family’s Federal Way apartment last week, according to King County prosecutors.

Marryl Ardila-Urrego, 33, and Chun Ho Vincent Lai, 42, were pulled over Feb. 20 on eastbound Interstate 90 just west of Moses Lake, Grant County, about 3 1/2 hours after snatching the 7-month-old girl and assaulting her mother, prosecutors say. The baby was unharmed and returned to her parents.

“This case is extraordinarily unusual,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Phillips wrote in charges filed Thursday against the couple, who share a residence in Lake Worth Beach, Fla., about 60 miles north of Miami.

The baby’s mother is Ardila-Urrego’s cousin, and she and Lai “came to Washington for the explicit reason of taking this baby, by force,” Phillips wrote.

No clear motive is referenced in charging papers, which say it appears Ardila-Urrego and Lai targeted the family “because they were known to the defendants and known to have children.” The charges note there’s “no evidence that mental illness or substance abuse contributed to this crime.”

The Florida residents have each been charged with first-degree kidnapping, robbery and burglary and accused of forcing their way into the family’s apartment and taking the infant, two cellphones and a tablet. They have also been charged with second-degree assault, accused of attacking the baby’s mother, and second-degree assault of a child for allegedly harming the baby’s 2-year-old sibling.

Further, prosecutors allege several aggravating factors: the child victims were particularly vulnerable and incapable of resistance, the crimes had a destructive and foreseeable impact on people other than the victim and the offenses involved a high degree of sophistication or planning. If proven to a jury, those factors could provide a basis for an exceptional sentence above the standard range.

The baby’s mother told police Ardila-Urrego said she had purchased a bed frame for the 2-year-old and notified the mother that it would be delivered Feb. 20 to the new residence the family had moved into just over a week earlier, the charges say.

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The woman said she heard a knock on her door after her husband had left for work that morning, looked through the peephole and saw a man, later identified as Lai, holding an Amazon box and clipboard, according to the charges. When she opened the door, Lai repeatedly punched her in the face, knocked her to the ground and bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties as a woman, later identified as Ardila-Urrego, came inside the apartment, say the charges. Ardila-Urrego held the mother down as Lai retrieved the baby, the charges state.

Lai put the baby in the Amazon box, then pushed the child’s mother into a bedroom with the 2-year-old, where he used baby clothes and tape to gag the woman, the charges say. He’s alleged to have closed the bedroom door and left.

After the mother managed to free her ankles, she discovered her baby was gone and ran outside with her toddler, where maintenance workers cut the zip ties from her wrists and a neighbor called 911, according to the charges.

The baby’s grandfather told police and FBI agents that he suspected Ardila-Urrego was involved in the baby’s abduction because she had been persistent in asking for his daughter’s address, which was unusual because Ardila-Urrego isn’t often in contact with the family, the charges say.

Neighbors’ security cameras captured footage of a man and woman arriving at the apartment complex in a white sedan and getting out with an Amazon box, then returning to the car with a red bag, the charges say. The car did not have a front license plate.

FBI agents tracked Ardila-Urrego’s cellphone and learned Lai owned a Honda Insight. Records from an automated license-plate reader showed Lai’s Honda had been in Tukwila the day before, in the same location as Ardila-Urrego’s cellphone, the charges say.

The cellphone information was relayed to the State Patrol, and a trooper conducted a traffic stop on the Honda just after 1 p.m., arresting Lai and Ardila-Urrego and rescuing the baby, according to the charges. The trooper sent a photo of the child to police, and her parents confirmed her identity.

The location where Lai and Ardila-Urrego were arrested is roughly 180 miles east of Federal Way.

Ardila-Urrego and Lai each remain jailed in lieu of $750,000 bail. They are scheduled to be arraigned March 7 at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.