Mass. officers use GPS to find kidnapped girl

By George Barnes and Danielle Williamson
Telegram & Gazette

ATHOL, Mass. — Using technology more commonly seen in television crime dramas, an Athol police officer and a deputy chief in the town's Fire Department were able to track a woman and her allegedly kidnapped 9-year-old granddaughter to a motel in south-central Virginia.

They notified Virginia State Police, who yesterday arrested Rose M. Maltais of 14 Grove St. without incident around 4:15 p.m.

Natalie Maltais will soon be back home with her legal guardians after Virginia State Police found her with her 52-year-old grandmother, Ms. Maltais, at the Budget Inn in Natural Bridge, Va.

Police Chief Timothy C. Anderson said the child and grandmother had been missing since Saturday, when Ms. Maltais picked up Natalie for what was supposed to be a weekend visit. Alarmed by comments made to them by the grandmother that they would never see Natalie again, the child's guardians contacted police. An arrest warrant was then issued for Ms. Maltais charging kidnapping.

The arrest of Ms. Maltais yesterday and the recovery of the child were the direct result of clever investigative work by Athol Police Officer Todd Neale and Deputy Fire Chief Thomas V. Lozier.

Officer Neale had the child's cell phone number from Monday night, when police Sgt. Kent A. Hager spoke to the child and her grandmother, who were at an undetermined location in Rhode Island. Police had been aware Ms. Maltais might be taking the child to Rhode Island, where she has relatives, or to Louisiana, where the child's biological mother, Marlena Santos, lives.

Sgt. Hager said, in speaking to Ms. Maltais and the child, he was able to determine the girl was not in immediate danger, and he was told by Ms. Maltais she would turn herself in yesterday morning.

When that did not happen, Officer Neale hit on the idea of tracking the woman and the child using the child's cell phone.

Since the end of 2005, cell phone carriers have been required to provide some way to trace calls to 100 meters or less. To accomplish this, global positioning technology has been integrated in cell phone handsets.

Knowing this, Officer Neale said, he contacted the child's cell phone provider seeking a way to trace the call.

The company provided him with GPS coordinates every time the phone was activated.

Knowing Deputy Chief Lozier has extensive experience using GPS technology, Officer Neale contacted him at the fire station. It then became a back and forth effort between the cell phone company, the police officer and Deputy Chief Lozier, who received latitude and longitude coordinates and triangulated them to learn where the two missing people were.

Deputy Chief Lozier said initially they thought Ms. Maltais and the child were heading to Knoxville, Tenn., and he and Officer Neale were hoping to be able to tell which direction they took out of Knoxville because it could give them an indication where their ultimate destination would be. Instead, he said, he was able to track the calls to an intersection on Virginia Route 11 near Interstate 81 in Natural Bridge, Va.

He said coordinates kept coming in within 300 feet of each other.

"Then I Googled it," he said.

Deputy Chief Lozier said that on the Internet search engine site Google there is a street view where people can look at photographs of neighborhoods in many locations.

Using the street view, he was able to look back and forth from the intersection.

Looking across a field, he said he saw a long building with a red roof that looked like a motel. He then did a search on Google for motels in Natural Bridge and found the Budget Inn-Natural Bridge, which, on a map, appeared to be close to the intersection he was looking at.

Not satisfied with that, he then looked at Google's satellite view of the motel and saw it was close to the intersection.

"I told Todd if I was going to throw the dice, I'd throw them there," he said.

Officer Neale then called state police in Virginia and told them the missing people were likely in the motel.

The police found them and placed Ms. Maltais in custody.

Natalie was taken into custody by the Virginia Department of Social Services, which will care for her until she is returned to her legal guardians.

Ms. Maltais is being held in Virginia while awaiting rendition to Massachusetts to face charges. Sgt. Hager said the charges are still to be determined.

Deputy Fire Chief Lozier said last night he was just thrilled to help police out in the case.

"When I got that call from Todd that they found them, that was a good call," he said.

Copyright 2009 Telegram & Gazette

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