A California city’s Main Street is the last place one might expect to see a child be abducted. But one woman witnessed just that from behind the wheel of her car. She sprung into action to save 12-year-old Amy Martinez by pretending she was someone else.
It was Wednesday, February 21, 2018, when Martinez made her way to school on her own. The 12-year-old’s route took her down Main Street in Santa Ana, California, on her way to Lathrop Intermediate School.
Suddenly, a woman allegedly crossed from the other side of Main Street to grab Martinez. The 12-year-old then said the woman forced her to continue walking, but Martinez didn’t want to. “She was saying that the demons are coming, Satan is here,” the 12-year-old told NBC 4.
As cars drove by on the busy street, no one stopped to help Martinez get away. That is, until one woman – who wished to remain unidentified in the press – drove by and saw what was unfolding from behind the wheel of her car.
Anthony Bertagna, a corporal with the Santa Ana Police Department, told KTLA, “Our Good Samaritan was driving south on Main Street after dropping her child off to school. She sees our suspect, who has our 12-year-old victim in a one-armed bear hug, dragging her down the street.”
Bertagna went on to say, “She doesn’t know if it’s a mother having an issue with her daughter, but something doesn’t look right because the suspect is homeless and her hair’s messy, so she makes a turn.”
The unidentified woman told ABC7 that Martinez’s struggle to get away made her feel as though something was wrong. So after turning around, she pulled over her car and made sure the 12-year-old was okay. Martinez said she wasn’t.
But it was more than the child’s words that clued her into the reality of the situation. “I’ll never forget the way [Martinez] looked at me. Her eyes were screaming for help,” the unidentified woman told NBC4.
With that, the woman knew she had to come up with something, some reason why the alleged kidnapper had to let Martinez go. “She said she had, in her mind, five seconds to come up with something to save this child,” Bertagna said.
The unidentified woman was a mother herself, and that’s perhaps what inspired her next move. Bertagna said, “She tells the suspect that she’s the child’s mother and she wants the child back.”
But she didn’t just pretend she was Martinez’s mother – she unleashed the fury that any parent would have while witnessing their child’s abduction. The switch in the woman’s voice was enough to end the alleged kidnapping.
The woman recalled, “I was basically yelling, ‘Let her go,’ so as soon as my voice changed, she let her go and Amy walked into my car.” With that, she drove the terrified young girl to school and called the police.
Cops combed the area in pursuit of the suspect, who they eventually tracked down. Thirty-four-year-old Claudia Cruz Hernandez was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping a minor younger than 14. “We believe she’s homeless,” Bertagna told NBC4.
Although Hernandez’s motive was unknown to police at the time of her arrest, one thing was for sure – her alleged actions terrified the 12-year-old girl. “I thought I wouldn’t see my mom or dad again,” Martinez said.
Her family was, of course, grateful to the woman who helped her escape such a harrowing ordeal. Martinez’s aunt, Cinthia Esparza, who came to the school after the incident, told ABC7, “No one stopped until this lady came. In our eyes, she’s our angel.”
The young girl’s parents had nothing but praise for the woman who had saved their daughter. Martinez’s mom told NBC4, “I just want to say thank you so much, and I hope that there’s more people like you out there.”
And Martinez herself had kind words for the woman too. “I want to say thank you for saving my life and you’re my hero,” she said on ABC7. The two embraced in front of news cameras as they said goodbye after their ordeal.
Even the police force chimed in to praise the unidentified woman. Bertagna, speaking to NBC4, said, “We always say if you see something, say something. Well, she saw something and did something.”
In the event that the woman had been unable to help, there were other steps that she and other witnesses of an alleged abduction could take to help a child at risk. The ability to describe the suspect, their vehicle, the child and the location of the crime could be vital in a police investigation.
Fortunately for the children of Santa Ana, California, there’s already a hero on the streets ready to intervene in case of another emergency. The woman told ABC7 she’d step in if she saw another situation like the one she stopped in February of 2018. “You’re a parent, you see somebody else’s child in danger, automatically you react as if it was yours,” she said.