A kidnapped 18-month-old girl was rescued Thursday morning thanks to city, NY state and PA state police after her mother was able to escape the man threatening to kill her and the child, according to the Cortland Police Department.
The severely beaten mother was able to flee from the kidnapper and contact police when he stopped for gas in Cortland, fueling up to continue his drive to Atlanta from Utica, said Lt. Michael Strangeway.
Working together, city police tracked the woman’s cell phone left in the vehicle the kidnapper was driving and PA state police pulled him over, leading to the girl’s rescue about 4 a.m. Thursday morning on Interstate 81 in Hazleton, PA, said Strangeway. Police identified the kidnapper as Jeremy L. Flowers, 34, of 615 Boyd Street Watertown, who is on parole after serving a state prison sentence, he said.
Flowers threatened to kill the woman and her toddler, said Strangeway, and at one point held a knife to the woman’s face. He also slammed his fist into the top of the little girl’s head, he said. The girl was not injured when she was recovered, said Strangeway.
The desperate drive began about 9 p.m. on Wednesday in Utica when Flowers accused his 26-year-old girlfriend of cheating on him, said Strangeway. The couple was staying in a Red Roof Inn with her 18-month-old daughter from a previous relationship when Flowers forced her and her child into their vehicle and made her start driving south to Atlanta, he said.
The woman called police in Utica for help, but Flowers took her phone from her, said Strangeway. The Utica Police Department started calling her back and Flowers forced the woman to drive as he accessed her phone account and changed her number to prevent police from reaching her, he said.
After he changed the phone’s number, Flowers forced the woman to pull over and he started driving, said Strangeway. As he drove, Flowers spit on her, punched her in the arm and face, grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly slammed her face against the dashboard, and banged her head into the passenger window, he said.
Her face and arm were black from severe bruising and her face was badly swollen, said Strangeway in an interview this afternoon.
Around 1:20 a.m. on Thursday, Flowers was running low on gas and cigarettes, said Strangeway. He decided to stop at the 154 Clinton Ave. Speedway just off the Interstate and ordered the woman to go inside for cigarettes, but not to try to contact police, he said. Instead, the woman ran inside the gas station, announced her boyfriend was beating her and locked herself inside a storage closet at the back of the store, said Strangeway. The clerks called the police.
When city officers arrived they found the woman severely beaten, said Strangeway. “She told police that she believed he (Flowers) was going to kill her and the child,” he said Thursday afternoon.
But when police arrived, the Nissan Altima Flowers was driving was gone — along with the toddler who was in the backseat, said Strangeway. Surveillance video from the gas station showed Flowers driving away when the woman ran inside the store, according to the department.
With the woman’s help, officers were able to contact her cell phone carrier and start tracking her phone despite the new number, said Strangeway. City police tracked the phone throughout the pre-dawn hours and relayed the information to the PA state police who laid in wait for Flowers to drive by on I-81, he said.
“After a number of near misses, Pennsylvania State Police successfully intercepted Flowers on I-81,” said Strangeway in a press release. “Flowers was taken into custody without incident and the 18-month-old girl was recovered uninjured.”
Her mother was taken to the hospital where she was treated and released today.
City police had applied for an Amber Alert for the missing child, but she was rescued Thursday morning around 4 a.m. before the alert went out, said Strangeway.
Strangeway praised the city department’s overnight patrol officers for their professional response. “They really did do a nice job,” he said. Det. Sgt. Dan Edwards also provided valuable support during the investigation and the cooperation of the NY and PA state police was essential, said Strangeway.
“This incident had a successful outcome because of the professional work and cooperation of our law enforcement partners at the New York State Police and the Pennsylvania State Police,” wrote Strangeway in a press release. “The Cortland County Aid to Victims of Violence also provided aid that was essential to the care and comfort of the victims in this case.”
At his arrest, Flowers was charged with second-degree kidnapping, third-degree grand larceny and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, felonies. He was also charged with three misdemeanors: third-degree assault, second-degree menacing and endangering the welfare of a child.
Flowers was released from state prison on March 26, 2020 after finishing a 13-month-long sentence for possessing drugs with the intent to sell, according to state prison records. He was previously incarcerated for two years for felony, fourth-degree grand larceny; he was released from state prison in that case in 2015, records show.
Flowers was arraigned as a fugitive in Luzerne County Court in Pennsylvania and held without bail. His next appearance is at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday (03/24/21) in the same court.