Patricia Ripley, the South Florida mother who initially claimed her severely autistic 9-year-old son had been kidnapped, ultimately admitted she was to blame for the child’s death at a canal and said “he’s going to be in a better place,” police said.
The shocking details of her confession emerged Saturday as Miami-Dade homicide detectives booked Ripley, 47, into jail on a charge of first-degree murder. The arrest came a little more than a day after she reported that Alejandro Ripley had been kidnapped by two robbers who ran her car off the road Thursday night — a report that sparked a frantic statewide manhunt and ended early Friday when his body was found in a pond at the Miccosukee Golf & Country Club.
And authorities said the murder was well-planned — she actually tried drowning Alejando earlier Thursday night, but was thwarted when a good Samaritan stepped in and rescued the boy from the water.
“An hour later, she brought the boy to a different canal ... this time, there was no one there to save him,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a Saturday morning press conference.
Alejandro was non-verbal and in the past had attended Greater Heights Academy, a West Kendall school for special-needs children. The boy received tutoring at home, and investigators believe the task may have overwhelmed Ripley in recent months.
His body was found wearing a wearing a blue Captain America T-shirt and diapers. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office was conducting an autopsy on Saturday.
Ripley, a married mother of two, appeared during a brief court hearing on Saturday, via closed-circuit television wearing a special gown for inmates under suicide watch. A judge ordered she be held with no bond on a count of first-degree murder. She is also charged with attempted first-degree murder.
Her husband, Aldo Ripley, and other relatives appeared at the brief court hearing.
“We love Alejandro and we don’t agree about whatever they said about my wife,” Aldo Ripley said tearfully. “It’s not real.”
Her defense attorney, Nelson Rodriguez-Varela, declined to speak about the allegations. “We’re going to leave that to another day to discuss.,” he said. “There is obviously a great deal of support for her. By all accounts, she has been an excellent mother, an excellent person.”
It was Thursday night when Ripley called police with a dramatic and bizarre tale: A light-blue car forced her car off the road near a West Kendall Home Depot. Two black men were inside. One of men jumped out, she told Miami-Dade police, and demanded drugs.
When she told them she didn’t have any, the man — armed with a knife — took the child, her cell phone and a tablet and drove off.
A statewide Amber Alert was issued for the child but it was canceled Friday morning when the boy’s body was found at the golf canal. Investigators were immediately suspicious of the kidnapping as Ripley gave conflicting details about the kidnapping, according to a police report obtained by the Miami Herald.
She continued giving conflicting statements. But Miami-Dade homicide detectives confronted her with evidence that her story didn’t check out.
Video surveillance footage showed her pushing the boy “into the canal” during the first attempt to kill the boy, at about 7:20 p.m. according to the police report. The good Samaritan rescued the boy and even offered to call police. Exactly how she explained the boy being in the water was unclear.
During questioning, Ripley eventually recanted her kidnapping story, police said. She admitted that at about 8:30 p.m., in her second attempt, she “led the victim to the canal where he drowned. She states he’s going to be in a better place.”
A source familiar with the investigation said a security camera at a Home Depot near where the alleged abduction took place showed Ripley sitting in her car alone — without Alejandro — for 20 minutes before she called police at 8:47 p.m. on Thursday.
Miami-Dade homicide detectives spent hours questioning the mother Friday night before she was finally booked.
The arrest echoed the infamous case of Susan Smith, who drowned her two young children by strapping them in a car and rolling it into a South Carolina lake in 1994. Smith, a white woman, initially told police that she had been carjacked by a black man, sparking a frantic search that lasted 12 days.
Ripley, who is Hispanic, initially told police that two black males were the ones who abducted Alejandro. One of them, she told police, may have sported a cornrows hair style.
“For her to place blame of her crime on another community, it’s just as well another crime that was committed. It’s very disappointing,” Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez told reporters Saturday.
--David Ovalle and Charles Rabin