Less than 24 hours after her infant son was kidnapped by a woman at the King of Prussia Mall, a Philadelphia mother is speaking out for the first time.
"I'm glad he's in my arms at this moment," said Malika Hunter. "I didn't know what the outcome of this situation would be."
Hunter told NBC10 the ordeal began Thursday when she took her children, including 7-week-old Ahsir, to the King of Prussia Mall. She says she met 32-year-old Cherie Amoore at a jewelry store and the two quickly bonded.
"She was so polite," Hunter said. "Nice, calm and energetic. Like the normal, average person."
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Hunter says Amoore asked her about Ahsir and the two bonded over being mothers.
"She was just stressed and she just had a new baby and the father is in the military so that puts all the work on her," Hunter said. "It was relatable. She ain't been out in a while."
The two continued talking as they headed to the food court. During their conversation, Amoore asked Hunter if she could hold Ahsir. While police initially said Hunter let Amoore hold him, they later said Hunter told her "no" and never handed him to her. Hunter told NBC10 she began tending to her 2-year-old son who was growing irritable. That's when Amoore took Ahsir from his stroller and walked away, according to police.
"When I realized it was really happening it was like my heart could just bust open at any moment," Hunter said. "At any moment I could just hit that floor. It was the worst feeling I ever felt in my life."
Police said Amoore walked up a set of stairs and then walked by the Bonefish Grill before exiting the mall. Surveillance video shows Amoore with Ahsir in her arms leaving the mall around 5:30 p.m., according to investigators.
Hunter alerted police and an extensive search began.
Police stopped cars as they left the mall as well as SEPTA buses. The FBI assisted with the search and an Amber Alert was issued both on television and through push notifications Thursday night. Police searched for the baby in Montgomery and Chester counties.[[374241561, C]]
Around 10:30 p.m., police announced the good news that the boy had been found safe and Amoore was in custody. Police said they found Amoore and the baby inside a home on the 900 block of Upper Gulph Road in Tredyffrin Township. Friends say the man who lives at the home had a relationship with Amoore. While the man declined to comment, his mother spoke to NBC10, telling us her son had no idea about the kidnapping.
"All he knew is when he got home from work," said Gladys Biggers. "She was there too."
The baby's family dealt with a roller coaster of emotions throughout the ordeal.
"I was like hysterical I was going through it," said Burdette Lewis, the boy's grandfather. "We all prayed in there together."[[374229251, C]]
Their prayers were answered as they had him back in their arms at the Upper Merion Police headquarters late Thursday night.
"(The family) thanks the police officers and all of them for doing their job," said Lewis.
Investigators said Amoore showed off the child to family and friends at a handful of locations before being caught. They also said she gave the baby boy a bath and new pajamas.
Amoore is charged with felony kidnapping, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and other related offenses following a formal arraignment Friday afternoon. She is currently being held on $500,000 bail.
Police don't believe Amoore, who lives in the King or Prussia area, has any connections to the baby's family, which lives in Philadelphia's Port Richmond section. They're still trying to determine a motive.
"She has told our investigators she did not go to the mall to steal a baby," said Upper Merion Police Chief Tom Nolan. "She also told investigators that she gave birth to a baby boy on February 11 which died a few hours later. We have not been able to confirm any of that story."
Police are currently looking at Amoore's medical records to confirm her pregnancy.
Amoore is the daughter of Republican Party of Pennsylvania Deputy Chairman Renee Amoore, a longtime GOP advocate. NBC10 approached Renee Amoore as well as a family pastor for comment.
"I'm just here as the family's pastor, supporter and keeping them in prayer," the pastor said. "Keep the other family in prayer as well."
Amoore's family also issued a statement Friday night saying they were focused on her health and wellness. They also asked for privacy.
Amoore's attorney said Renee's political status did not have any impact on her daughter's alleged decision to kidnap the baby.
Hunter told NBC10 she hopes Amoore gets proper help.
"She needs help," she said. "Get her some help. That's what she needs."
For many smartphone users the official Amber Alert notification was not sent until around four hours after the baby was kidnapped. In the state of Pennsylvania, sending out an Amber Alert is a process with at least three steps. Local authorities notify the state police, the state police notify the National Center for Missing Children in Washington, DC, and then the National Center for Missing Children sends the alert to phones.
Before law enforcement officials issue an Amber Alert they must first believe an abduction occurred and that the child, under the age of 17, is in imminent danger. They also need enough descriptive information to assist in a recovery. Chief Nolan insisted those criteria were quickly met on a local level.
"I know that the Amber Alert that went out through the Upper Merion Police Department went out to all surrounding jurisdictions in Montgomery County within the first few minutes," he said.
Pennsylvania State Police told NBC10 their watch center was first contacted at 7:45 p.m. Thursday but it took an hour for them to obtain appropriate pictures and information. They then activated the Amber Alert at 8:48 p.m. With that activation, State Police notified the National Center for Missing Children in DC which sent the alerts to phones, a process that took about 45 minutes.