CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like a scene out of a television show, a Charleston woman went into a convenience store for only a few moments and left her car running to keep her 9-month-old baby warm.
When she came out the car was gone. And so was her infant son.
"It's the most terrifying thing that's ever happened to me in my life," said Charleston resident Emily Mottesheard, the child's mother. "Scariest thing I've ever experienced. Hands down."
Mottesheard, 32, stopped Monday afternoon at the Washington Street East Exxon One Stop to buy a pack of cigarettes for her husband, Charles Matheny, who is trying to quit smoking, she said.
She takes her 9-month-old son, Evan, to work with her at UE Local 170 where she's an office manager. Fearing the cold temperatures would keep her at home Tuesday, she finished up her work early and grabbed what she could so that she could work from home.
She then bundled Evan up and got him to the car so that they could run a few errands before heading home. She hit Wendy's drive-through first to grab dinner and then stopped for the cigarettes and gas, as the gas gauge was hovering on empty.
None of the pumps were open and only one spot, in front of the store's windows, was open. She pulled in and made the decision to leave Evan bundled up in her white Saturn sedan with the engine running and the heat on.
"I figured, 'well, I'll just go in, grab my husband's pack real quick and get back out and head out,'" Mottesheard said. "The wind had been blowing really hard and there was a negative wind chill earlier. I didn't want to pull him out and expose him to that to go into the store for something small."
Temperatures were well below freezing Monday and continued to descend into the single digits. Charleston detectives noted in a criminal complaint that it was about 9 degrees with a wind chill of minus 8.
She said she is a regular customer at the One Stop and felt that it was the safest option in that area. There were a lot of people at the store that afternoon as well, she said.
The clerks recognized her as she entered the store and pulled the cigarettes off the rack before she even got to the register. Mottesheard had exact change, making the transaction go even faster.
But when she turned to hurry out, she saw her car was gone.
"It felt like something just dropped-like the bottom dropped out," she said. "Like my stomach just wasn't there anymore."
Christopher Linville, 20, of New Hope Road in Elkview, exited the store while she was inside and got into the driver's seat of her car, according to the criminal complaint. He was arrested Monday afternoon, said Charleston Lt. Steve Cooper, chief of detectives.
"In the instant she was inside, Mr. Linville jumped into her car and took off," Cooper said. "He was lingering around and the moment she left her vehicle and stepped inside, he went straight and got into the car and drove away."
She started trying to reason out the situation, thinking maybe she parked somewhere else or at a pump. But she knew her car had been taken. She told the clerks that someone had taken her car and baby. Panic ensued
Her cellphone was in the car, so she used the store phone to call 911. Officers arrived before she ended the call for help, she said, a matter of seconds.
Officers immediately began a search. A photo of Linville from security video from the store was circulated among local, state and federal law enforcement along with a photo of a similar-looking car. Mottesheard tried to use a friend's phone to track her own smartphone but no luck. It had been turned off.
She called her family and was soon joined by her father, who works in Charleston, and a prayer chain was started. The chain, she said, grew to more than 1,000 people in less than 30 minutes.
All she could do was wait and try not to fall apart.
Charleston Cpl. Tim Jarrett II was off duty at the time and was driving his wife home. He works the night shift for the city and was sleeping when the initial call went out. He heard about the incident on WQBE's radio broadcast, which included a description of the car and a license plate number.
A 14-year veteran of the police force, Jarrett said he is always on the lookout for things out of place, even when off duty. He first noticed the white Saturn parked in a wide spot along Wertz Avenue, which is off Kanawha Boulevard on the city's East End.
The area is wooded and secluded, police said. The engine wasn't running and Linville had fled.
"As I slowed down to pass the vehicle I saw a baby seat, but as soon as I saw that <#146>2-Alpha' (referring to phonetic alphabet for A) on the plate I stopped and had to check that vehicle," Jarrett said Monday evening.
"I was hoping and praying that baby was still in the car."
Jarrett said the infant was sitting quietly in his car seat. The car's interior was still "kind of warm" he said, but Jarrett's wife got the baby out of the car and held him in the truck with her where it was "much warmer."
He stayed outside to call 911 for the child. Jarrett said it was only a matter of minutes before "the cavalry" arrived in a sea of cruisers and blue lights. Charleston police were assisted by State Police, Kanawha deputies and federal authorities in the search.
Cooper said detectives stayed with Mottesheard throughout the incident. They escorted her and her husband to Wertz Avenue where their child was waiting for them.
"The mom asked me if I was the one who found her baby," Jarrett said. "I said 'yes' and she gave me a big hug."
Charles Matheny, the child's father, also thanked him for his help. He said Mottesheard then climbed into the driver's seat of his truck to hold her son.
Mottesheard said Evan was happy and OK when she finally got to him. The couple told her that he had been laughing, giggling and cooing at them while they waited, she said.
The baby was gone for a little more than an hour but was found in good health and returned to the family, Cooper said.
"We're just very fortunate that one of our officers drove through the area and recognized the vehicle parked on the side of the road and was able to get the baby out of the car and get it to some warmth and comfort," Cooper said.
"I'm hopeful that someone would have noticed something or maybe called about a vehicle sitting on the side of the road but if not, it wasn't apparent that there was anyone in it.
"It could have sat there all night. It's just chilling to think about what could have happened due to this man's actions with this small 9-month-old baby in this weather."
Mottesheard was thankful for the officers' hard work and the concern and support from the strangers at the store who tried to help her however they could.
"There were so many police officers everywhere working so hard to get him back," Mottesheard said. "The response was amazing they were really helpful. It was all so hard to process at the time. I'm so grateful."
'A bad decision'
Meanwhile, officers fanned out in the cold weather to look for any sign of Linville. State Police Trooper Stewart Harper was on the scene with his canine partner to try to track Linville.
The dog tracked Linville a little more than a half a mile away to Wertz Apartments on Wertz Avenue where he was found hiding in a friend's home. The others at the apartment have not been charged.
Linville was charged with abduction, child neglect creating the substantial risk of injury or death, and grand larceny, all felonies.
He was apologetic when detectives Canden Sharp and Jeremy Tate led him to a waiting police vehicle to be taken across the street to Kanawha Magistrate Court for arraignment.
"I would like to say sorry to the family," Linville said. "I mean, it was a bad decision that I had -- that I made and I really didn't want to. I didn't know the baby was in the car whenever I had taken the car, but as soon as I noticed the car had a baby in it and everything, I parked it by a house. That way it was close to a house and the family could be able to have their baby back."
Linville has theft charges pending in Kanawha Circuit Court. He was charged twice in October, once for taking a vehicle from a home where he was staying without the owner's permission and also stealing the AR-15 rifle from the trunk, and again for breaking into Clendenin Pentecostal Church.
Assistant Pastor Bill Monk told Clendenin police it appeared someone pried the door open and then stole a guitar, a set of keys and a jar of money from a teaching room near the pulpit. Linville told police during a jailhouse interview he broke into the church because he was hungry and that while inside he ate Ramen noodles, and stole the money jar and a guitar.
Kanawha Magistrate Joe Shelton set Linville's bond at $250,000 cash. Linville is being held at South Central Regional Jail. A preliminary hearing was set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 13.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.cr...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4850.