Amber Nicklas remains in protective custody in Los Angeles and it was not clear if she will be reunited with her foster parents. Authorities have not released any names or filed any charges but continue to investigate.
“This girl was taken away from the only parents and family that she knows yesterday,” said Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump. “It was very traumatizing to the girl.”
Amber was 1 when she was abducted from her foster parents on Sept. 21, 2003, by three juvenile aunts during a visit to a children’s restaurant in a Los Angeles suburb, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Detective Jerry Saba. The foster parents were distracted by two of the aunts and the third aunt got away with the child, authorities said. Two of the aunts spent time in juvenile camp for the abduction, but authorities would not release details on why they took the child or if they remain part of the investigation.
It was not clear how Amber wound up in Phoenix, though there apparently was some sort of connection between the aunts and the family there. “This family has an acquaintance with the abducting family,” Crump said. “They know each other, and that’s all I know about.”
The man and the woman in the Phoenix home said they were from Romania and initially claimed to have adopted Amber, though their stories were inconsistent, Saba said. Amber spoke some Romanian, though English is her main language.
The break in the case came in November when Saba got a tip that eventually led him to Phoenix. Saba on Wednesday accompanied Phoenix police and the FBI to the girl’s home, where a woman tried to hide Amber. A baby girl and older boy were also in the house.
Authorities confirmed Amber’s identity by comparing her footprint to that on her birth certificate, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Capt. Patrick Maxwell. She was upset at the prospect of having to leave the people she thought were her parents.
“The detectives said to the ‘parents,’ if you really care about this child, you need to go in there and tell her everything is going to be OK,” Maxwell said. “They did that.” The man and woman in the home where Amber was found were detained then released after questioning. A second woman was detained and questioned elsewhere in Phoenix. She was also released.
Maxwell said her birth parents are “out of the picture” and he would not say if the foster parents were notified. Read more here.