A Clearwater couple is accused of dialing 911 to say their child was missing, and they have now been charged.
The toddler was safe the entire time at day care, authorities said.
At about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Clearwater Police Department received a call of a report of a 3-year-old child missing in a car that was stolen from a home in the 1300 block of Boylan Avenue.
According to police detectives, police spotted the vehicle, which crashed on U.S. 19 south of Curlew Road. The driver of the car, Stevie Gamble Jr., 20, was arrested at the scene. He was charged with grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding, reckless driving and driving with a suspended or revoked license.
After Gamble was arrested, detectives interviewed him and spoke to the child's mother, Angelica Luz Marrero, again. At some point, the mother recanted her story about the missing child.
The 3-year-old boy, whose name we are no longer publishing, was found safe in day care in Pinellas Park along with his 4-year-old sister.
Marrero, 24, and her son's father, Nestor Gerardo Badillo, 27, were arrested and charged with filing a false report and misusing 911. Badillo has since bonded out of jail.
When Marrero and Badillo were being escorted to jail by Clearwater police, Action News reporter Marisela Burgos asked Marrero about what her son's alleged disappearance and the stolen car.
The exchange went as followed:
Burgos to Marrero: "Was your son ever missing?"
Marrero: "The police have (taken) care of it."
Burgos to Marrero: "What does that mean?"
Marrero: "They have taken care of this situation."
When Badillo was asked questions about what happened, he fired off a tirade about car thieves.
"Maybe this will teach people not to steal people's vehicles, especially not be bold enough to come get it from my home while I'm at work," Badillo said.
Badillo claimed he was a victim of an auto thieve. All the while Marrero shouted to Badillo not to speak to reporters.
Reporter to Badillo: "You don't think your two children are the victim(s)?"
Badillo: "I think there are a lot of victims."
Detectives said they believe the stunt may stem from a drug deal.
Rosa Marrero, the children's grandmother, said she had no clue beforehand about the incident.
"I have no idea honestly," Rosa Marrero said. "I have no idea. and I haven't been able to talk to her, and it saddens me that she would take something like this to that extreme."
"I thought I wasn't going to see my grandson and my granddaughter, and then seeing them on the news too and not being able to hold them and take care of them," Rosa Marrero said crying.
However, authorities released the boy and girl to Rosa Marrero and her husband at the Clearwater Police Department Wednesday night.
"Now thank God Almighty, I'm getting my grand babies," Rosa Marrero said. "I'm going home, and they are going to be safe and they are going to be OK."