The mother and child sought in an Amber Alert issued Monday afternoon in New Westminster, B.C., were found unharmed hours later at Assumption Catholic Church in Bellingham.
Nine-year-old Makayla Estrada Weber and her mother, Wilma Estrada, 48, arrived at the parish office, 2116 Cornwall Ave., about 5 p.m. Monday, and asked an Assumption Catholic School official to contact authorities, said Bellingham Police Sgt. Mike Scanlon. The church and school are in the same grounds.
“Everyone is safe,” Scanlon said. “This is a case of custodial interference. It’s a Canadian issue, a familial issue, up in Canada.”
Estrada was arrested Monday night and booked into Whatcom County Jail on a single charge of first-degree custodial interference, a class C felony, Scanlon said. He said Child Protective Services was placing Estrada Weber temporarily with a foster family.
Estrada Weber was never in danger, Scanlon said.
“(Estrada) has great concern for her daughter,” Scanlon said. “She was very cooperative and there was no problem. She had a concern for the safety of her child” in Canada. Authorities said Estrada took the girl during an approved custody visit, in violation of a court order.
Scanlon said Estrada is Catholic, and she sought the safety of the church to turn herself in.
New Westminster Police said Estrada Weber was taken about 10:45 p.m. Sunday.
“The child suffers from ‘selective mutism’ in which a person who is normally capable of speech will only speak with specific people she trusts,” according to the Amber Alert.
Police converged at the Coachman Inn, 120 N. Samish Way, where plain-clothed Homeland Security Investigations agents spotted Estrada’s car early Monday afternoon. The Amber Alert described a gray 2003 Toyota Corolla with British Columbia license plate 228-MJT, which officials saw parked at the motel.
Scalon said local authorities discussed the situation with their Canadian counterparts.
A trained hostage negotiator was with the team of officers, in case the situation deteriorated. No special weapons teams were visible, and police did not cordon off the area or drive with lights flashing.
“It was very low-key. We purposely kept it that way,” Scanlon said.
But shortly before 5 p.m., officers learned that Estrada and her daughter wasn’t even in the motel room, and rushed to the church.
Scanlon said he wasn’t certain how Estrada and her daughter got to the church. He thought they took a bus or a taxi, leaving the car behind. (Story and photos from Bellingham Herald)