Police said Friday afternoon that the 12-year-old girl who had been missing from Hudson Falls for two days was found unharmed in New York City, hours after a man who drove her there had been arrested for his alleged role in her disappearance.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office announced shortly after 1 p.m. that Malaya Johnson was safe, and had been located by law enforcement officers in New York City. The Amber Alert that had been issued in the case was canceled as well.
It was unclear when she would be returned home, or whether she would face Family Court action in light of her flight from home.
According to a report from WCBS-TV in New York City, the New York Police Department said Malaya had contacted her family Friday morning to let them know she was safe but “not coming home.”
Late Thursday, a 19-year-old New York City man was arrested in connection with the case and accused of kidnapping Malaya despite the fact she was believed to have willingly accompanied him.
The man, George A. Torres of Staten Island, was charged with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child because police believe he gave her a ride to New York City, leaving her at the Staten Island Ferry around 11 a.m., authorities said. Police said she arranged for the ride.
He was initially charged solely with the misdemeanor overnight, but the kidnapping charge was added later Friday. He was arraigned before Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan and sent to Washington County Jail for lack of bail. Wheeled into court in a wheelchair, he spoke quietly only to acknowledge his name and address and that he understood his rights.
Washington County First Assistant District Attorney Christian Morris said the case is considered kidnapping because of the child’s age, even with her consent to accompany the defendant.
“Even by acquiescence, she can not consent,” Morris said.
Torres’ lawyer, Washington County Public Defender Michael Mercure, said his client is a college graduate who works for the state in New York City and has no criminal record. The car Torres drove was registered to his father in Pennsylvania.
Mercure said that Malaya told his client she was 18, a senior in high school and wanted a ride to New York City to see her father. He said his client fully cooperated with police and did not kidnap the girl.
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said police were working Friday to find where Malaya went from the ferry station. It was not known whether she had contact with any other people who may be aiding her, he said.
It is also not known who she was intending to meet, or where she was going.
“It’s a big city and there are several thousand people a day on those boats,” the sheriff said.
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Hudson Falls Police Chief Scott Gillis said police believe Johnson is a “runaway” who used social media to meet Torres and arrange for him to pick her up in Hudson Falls after school on Wednesday.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the red Ford Mustang that witnesses said Malaya and its two occupants were in was last seen on Oak Street around 3 p.m. Wednesday in Hudson Falls.
State Police were able to track Torres’ vehicle to Staten Island via tolls and police license plate reader hits, and identify whose vehicle it was. Police said he was cooperative and explained that Malaya asked for a ride to New York City.
Torres and another man who was with her were questioned. But they could not provide information about where Malaya was headed. The other man has not been charged.
Police issued an “Amber Alert” that notifies police agencies around the country. Her cellphone was “pinged” and located Wednesday night in Rockland County.
Police investigated possible sightings of the girl late Thursday in New York City.
Washington County sheriff’s officers said New York City Police, FBI, Hudson Falls Police and State Police assisted with the investigation.
“There has been very good cooperation between the agencies. The Sheriff’s Department and (Senior Investigator) Kristen Hardy and the State Police have been fantastic,” Gillis said.
Murphy and Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said Torres has been charged for his alleged illegal activity in Washington County, and the investigation was ongoing as to whether additional charges were warranted.
Police have termed Malaya’s disappearance a “possible abduction,” and said they initially did not know the relationship she had with the men who were in the car. There was no initial indication she was taken against her will, and police said she was walking with a friend when she met Torres after school.
“She had made some comments to friends that she was going to New York City to be with her ‘family,’ “ Gillis said.
Anyone with information about her disappearance was asked to call 911 or the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 518-747-4623.
Torres is due back in Kingsbury Town Court on Wednesday. The kidnapping charge is punishable by up to 25 years in state prison.