PHOENIX — Phoenix police Officer Mike Burns had just finished searching a desert area for signs of a 5-year-old girl and the man who had kidnapped her as she played with her sisters on Christmas Day.
No luck. But as Burns drove down a north Phoenix street, he spotted a truck that matched descriptions of the kidnapper's vehicle, and a man and a little girl inside.
When the truck made an abrupt turn and sped off, Burns knew he couldn't let it out of his sight.
"There was no doubt in my mind," Burns told reporters on Saturday. "If he disappears, we may not get her back."
About 10 minutes later, 45-year-old Larry Jon Ladwig was under arrest, and the frightened girl was rescued and taken to a Phoenix police facility that aids young victims of crime, where it was determined she had been molested. The girl was treated and is back home with her family, police Sgt. Andy Hill said.
Ladwig was booked into jail early Saturday on charges of kidnapping, sexual molestation of a child, aggravated assault of a police officer and felony flight. It's unclear whether Ladwig has a lawyer, and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to a request to interview him.
Statistically, Hill said if police don't recover a child abducted by a stranger within the first several hours, "chances are slim of recovering them alive."
"We really did have a Christmas miracle," he said.
The girl was rescued about 9:30 p.m. Friday, more than seven hours after police believe Ladwig kidnapped her while she was playing outside a Phoenix apartment building. The Associated Press is not reporting the girl's name because she may be the victim of a sex crime.
When Burns spotted Ladwig's pickup, he gave chase and alerted the force. Officers put spike strips across the road several blocks away that punctured Ladwig's tires, causing him to crash on the roadside.
Ladwig took off on foot but was caught and arrested a block away after a brief struggle.