VEAZIE — An Arizona couple were in custody Tuesday night, one day after authorities say they snatched two children from a relative’s home in Clinton and fled.
Veazie police arrested Cindy (Hall) Lopez, 23, and her husband, Michael Lopez, 35, both of Mesa, Ariz., at the Stucco Lodge on State Street about 7:45 p.m. They had been briefly staying there with their son, 18-month-old Israel Lopez, and 5-year-old Porscha Green, Cindy Lopez’s daughter from a previous marriage.
They were both arrested on Kennebec County warrants charging them with assault and criminal restraint by a parent and Cindy Lopez was wanted on a Waterville warrant issued four years ago for failure to pay a fine.
They were taken to Penobscot County Jail in Bangor and released to Kennebec County law enforcement officials about 10:30 p.m.
The two children are involved in a custody dispute and were in the care of their maternal grandmother, who had recently won temporary custody of them. According to police, the Lopezes forcibly took the children from outside the home of relatives in Clinton.
“We don’t know where they’re headed,” Capt. Paul Ferland of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department said earlier Tuesday.
Police were told that they could be headed to Canada or Mexico and bulletins were sent to both countries.
But a television news report Tuesday on the kidnapping prompted one Stucco Lodge guest to call police at 6:45 p.m. alerting them of the Lopezes’ whereabouts.
Kennebec County authorities had issued warnings about the couple, indicating they could be extremely assaultive and that police should proceed with caution, reported Veazie police Officer Julie Taylor.
Police sought a subdued approach to arresting the couple in an effort to keep the Lopezes from taking drastic measures with the children present, according to investigators. But Veazie and Bangor police officers also set up around the building in case there were problems.
“We didn’t know what type of reaction Mike and Cindy would have,” said Veazie police Sgt. John Knappe, who called the Lopezes from a phone in the lodge’s office.
After talking with Knappe, Cindy Lopez agreed to open the door and speak with police. The two then gave themselves up separately about 7:45 p.m., and were handcuffed away from the children, as police sought to minimize the children’s exposure to the arrest of their parents, Knappe said.
For the next two hours, Veazie police officers had the extra duty of babysitting the two children until relatives came to pick them up. Both were turned over to the custody of Eric Green, Porscha’s biological father, and his parents, Donald and Deborah Green, of Benton.
Israel was asleep when they showed up about 9:40 p.m., but Porscha ran to hug her father, police said.
Details of what the Lopezes planned to do weren’t clear and Veazie Police Chief Robert O’Halloran said they were evasive when police interviewed them. Michael Lopez told investigators that he had applied for a local construction job, but the couple had only paid for one night’s stay at the Stucco Lodge.
“I don’t think they had any intention of staying very long,” O’Halloran said.
The case stems from a custody dispute between Cindy Lopez and her mother, Jean Levine, also of Arizona.
At an Aug. 5 hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona, Levine won temporary custody of the girl and boy because of issues involving their care, Ferland said.
Another hearing in the case had been set for Thursday. In the meantime, Levine had taken the children to the home of Zeke and Ellen Lesperance, relatives who live on River Road in Clinton.
Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Ellen Lesperance declined to discuss the incident.
The Sheriff’s Department gave the following account:
About 6:30 p.m., Levine was watching the children in the yard outside the Lesperances’ trailer home when she noticed her daughter and son-in-law arrive in a 1980s cream-colored Ford pickup truck with Arizona plates.
Michael and Cindy Lopez sprang from the truck as Levine scooped the little boy into her arms and called for the girl, hoping to get them inside.
As Cindy Lopez struggled to snatch the little boy from Levine’s grasp, Michael Lopez allegedly kicked the older woman in the groin. Levine, doubled over in pain, let go.
The couple then grabbed the children and fled.
Meanwhile, Ellen Lesperance had heard the commotion and dashed outside. As the pickup truck driven by Cindy Lopez pulled out of the driveway, Lesperance ran and got in front of it.
“Cindy just sped up and drove for her,” Detective Sgt. Gilbert Turcotte said Tuesday afternoon, adding that Lesperance wasn’t injured.
As the truck disappeared from sight, Levine called the Sheriff’s Department.