Suspect in Custody as 9-Year-Old Girl Found Safe After Going Missing on Camping Trip

A suspect is in custody after a nine-year-old girl who went missing during a camping trip in New York was found safe on October 2, according to authorities.

Charlotte Sena was riding her bike in Moreau Lake State Park in Saratoga County on Saturday, October 30, before being reported missing, police said.

Police allege at 4.20am on October 2, a man drove up to her family’s home and left a ransom letter in their mailbox.

“He literally drove up to the family’s mailbox, assuming they were not home, 4.20 in the morning, opens the mailbox and inserts the ransom note, leaving a critical piece of evidence behind, his own fingerprint,” New York Governor, Kathy Hochul told media.

Tactical teams found the suspect inside a camper van, behind his mother’s trailer in Milton, outside Saratoga Springs.

“After some resistance, the suspect was taken into custody, and immediately the little girl was found in a cabinet, covered. She was rescued, and she knew she was being rescued and she was in safe hands,” Hochul said.

Her parents were notified and the nine year old was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

The suspect, 47-year-old Craig Nelson Ross Junior, has been questioned and charges are expected to be laid in the coming hours.

This is a developing story Credit: New York Governor Kathy Hochul via Storyful

Video transcript

KATHY HOCHUL: This gift to all of us. And it is the people standing here with me-- they remind me why I'm so proud to be the governor of this state-- incredible men and women who were relentless in their pursuit of finding this little girl. Yesterday, I held Charlotte's parents in my arms, David and Trish.

I went to the campsite. I saw the place that she had just been a joyful little girl the day before, riding her bike. Because I was on the road she rode her bike on, saw where she left it.

And her parents were just so overcome with sadness and grief. And as a parent, I thought my own heart was breaking. And I said to them, I promise you this. We will bring Charlotte home to you.

And as each hour went on, hope faded. Because we all know the stories. The first 24 hours, there's hope. But when you hit 48 hours, hope starts to wane.

But when Charlotte disappeared in Moreau State Park, it was every parent's worst nightmare. But I knew I would be able to have assembled the team of individuals who would not stop. And I want to thank at this moment the individuals gathered here tonight, and all the men and women across this state that they represent. And the FBI brought in their specialized trained individuals all the way from Washington to help with this search.

I want to thank Deputy Superintendent Richard Allen, Lieutenant Colonel James Barnes, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Mazzone, Major Dennis Schager for their work, the New York State Park Police, Colonel Michael Daddona, the Office of Parks and Historic Preservation Chief of Staff Randy Simons, Saratoga County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Jeffrey O'Connor, the Schenectady County Sheriff's Office, represented by the Schenectady Police Department, Police Department of Schenectady Detective Sergeant Bradley Carlton, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Acting Agent in Charge Alfred Watson, who I met yesterday on site, New York State Department of Corrections and Community Services Acting Commissioner Daniel Martuscello, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers, Basil Seggos.

As I mentioned, when you hit that 48-hour moment, you realize it's going to be tough, and you start thinking the worst. But what happened was extraordinary. The case started to break at 4:20 AM this morning, when the family's home that was being guarded by state police-- when the parents were still starting another day at the campsite where they last seen their daughter.

4:20 AM, a car pulls up to a mailbox. Something is left. State police immediately go to the mailbox and identify what is a ransom note that had been left behind for Charlotte.

State police worked diligently, trying to find a match for a fingerprint-- first one tried and wasn't successful, second one was-- to identify any other prints in the New York state database that would be a match. The hit came at 2:30 in the afternoon. There had been a DWI in 1999 in the city of Saratoga.

A fingerprint was found that matched what was found on the ransom note. So a little more research work to identify the location and identifying the fact that there was a home they could visit. They found a double-wide house with a woman, the suspect's mother.

The suspect lived in the camper behind. They have what they call a dynamic entry, a tactical maneuver. And within the camper, they located the suspect. After some resistance, the suspect was taken into custody, and immediately, the little girl was found in a cabinet cupboard.

She was rescued. And she knew she was being rescued. She knew that she was in safe hands. Her parents were immediately notified. This occurred at 6:32 this evening.

The suspect, 47-year-old male named Craig Nelson Ross, Jr., is still being questioned. At this moment, charges have not been brought, but they are fully expected. The daughter was transported. The daughter was transported to local hospital, as is customary.

And that's all the family wishes to reveal at this time, but they are united. She is in good hands. She appeared to be outwardly physically unharmed at the time. But we'll leave the rest of this information about little Charlotte to her family at a time they deem appropriate.

Often, these stories don't end up like this. Every second is key. There's a lot of pressure. Split decisions are made. Because not just the life is hanging in the balance, but a little innocent child's life is hanging in the balance.

So to the teams behind me, you work quickly. You work with great urgency. You put it together, the puzzle pieces. You're able to track down the location of Charlotte through technology. But ultimately, it was the two SWAT teams, one federal, one state, that landed in helicopters in Ballston Spa to rescue Charlotte.

It's still pretty overwhelming, because all of us feared the worst. But I promised Trish and Dave they would be reunited with little Charlotte once again, and she'd see her two sisters, one 10, one 4 years old.

And obviously, it's a traumatic event for the family and, certainly, Charlotte. And we'll continue to keep this family in our prayers as they heal. But she'll be going home. That's the story. Charlotte will be going home.

That's all I have to say on the details. Certainly, there'll be many more coming out with respect to the suspect and how that case will proceed. I want to thank the media for their intense interest, and the 400 volunteers who would not give up, 400 individuals from law enforcement, fire departments, city, county, state, and federal.

It was an awesome sight to witness up at the State Park yesterday, everyone doing their job. But also, there were a lot of parents out there among the ranks. And everybody thinks, if it was my child, I would want everybody under the sun looking for them.

And that's what this team did. So thank you. Thank you, everyone. Thank you. You brought Charlotte home. Any questions?

- Why were Schenectady agencies involved in this case?

KATHY HOCHUL: Charlotte's uncle was a member of the police department in Schenectady, I understand. If that's not correct, someone correct me.

- Fire Department.

KATHY HOCHUL: Fire Department. Fire Department.

- Was the suspect known to the family?

KATHY HOCHUL: It has not been determined that the suspect was known to the family.

- Was Charlotte randomly targeted, or did he know [? her? ?]

KATHY HOCHUL: That is what will be revealed after more extensive questioning. The vehicle registered to the suspect, the address in the database was two miles from Charlotte's home. But it is not known at this time whether he knew her or had her under surveillance for any length of time.


- Governor, can you say-- you said a letter was delivered. Was it delivered by a mail carrier or was it delivered by a third party? Do you have that information at this point?

KATHY HOCHUL: It appears that it was by the suspect himself, that he literally drove up to the family's mailbox, assuming they were not home, 4:20 in the morning, opens the mailbox and inserts the ransom note, leaving a critical piece of evidence behind-- his own fingerprint.

- And I would assume the car details were also taken into consideration at that point [INAUDIBLE].

KATHY HOCHUL: Well, there was a-- it happened very quickly. Obviously, it's dark. It's 4:20 in the morning. So it's hard to get a description of the vehicle. But there was some sense of the type of vehicle at the time when they left, so as they're piecing together all the evidence, it came together.

When they did the fingerprint match, it leads you to a name. It can lead you to a vehicle. And that's why we know that he had a home. His mother's home is where he was found. Again, double-wide trailer, mother lives there-- double-wide home.

He lives in a camper in the back. Or at least he was there. But he also had his name registered to a vehicle, and the address was a home two miles from where Charlotte lived.

- And this just came out of nowhere? They just showed up at 4:30 in the morning?

KATHY HOCHUL: Apparently so.


- Have you spoken to Charlotte at all or Charlotte's family since she's been found?

KATHY HOCHUL: I've made a number of inquiries to the family. This is a traumatic time for them as they're going through her health, taking care of her health right now. And I'll be speaking to the parents as soon as I can.

- You said there was some resistance with the suspect. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?


- When we made the dynamic entry into the residence, he did give our SORT operators, our SWAT people, some resistance in there. He was taken into custody. He did suffer some very minor injuries, but it was relatively minor, not-- nothing big, a scuffle.

KATHY HOCHUL: I just want to say there's still a lot of searches underway. The home that he was registered to-- a lot of information. And so you want to make sure that he's not connected with any other cases, so that's why it's still an ongoing investigation. But at this time, there's no evidence of that.

- At the end of the search, what was the extent, like, of the search, in terms of the scope area that investigators, searchers, were looking at?

KATHY HOCHUL: I'll let you answer, Colonel. But--

- Are you asking about at the park?

- Scope beyond the park. I've heard reports that it was beyond the park as well.

- The original scope of the ground search was within the park. The information we received that took us to Ballston Spa was obviously outside the park. We had no search-- ground search operations going on outside the park other than leads we were running down, that we were developing throughout the two days.

- Great. Thank you.

- What did the ransom letter say?

- We're not-- we're not going to disclose that.

- --this massive search? What were some of the biggest takeaways from this search, now that it's wrapped up?

- I would say the biggest thing is, you look at all these people behind us. It's cooperation of all the agencies. We don't work in silos. We have to work together to accomplish something like this.

And you can never be too careful with your kids. Pay attention to where they're at, what they're doing. Things can happen in an instant, you know. Charlotte was no more than probably 2/10 of a mile from where she was camping in a small area, and she was gone for-- for her to ride her bike around that loop would take her about four minutes, five minutes.

You know, so you'd think they're safe doing that at nine years old, but you just got to be cognizant and be paying attention to the things around you, your surroundings, all the time. These things happen in a hurry. And fortunately, today, this ended in the right way.

- Will there be any--

- Any idea on the motive?

- Will there be any security protocols moving forward at the park?

KATHY HOCHUL: We'll be doing an afteraction report to identify any areas where the state parks can make any improvements. But obviously, this is a very random incident, and basically, anyone who comes in and out of that park will have come through a certain entryway.

Their name is-- they purchase a ticket. You have their name in a database. So that is why that's also helpful to identify who's in the park. So that's also, in a sense, a security measure. Because we always know who's in the park.

- Did the suspect enter through the main gate?

KATHY HOCHUL: We don't have any-- we don't know how he [INAUDIBLE]--

- You mentioned two helicopters. The arrest affected by the helicopters? On the ground--

KATHY HOCHUL: The-- go ahead.

- The arrest wasn't done by helicopter. Because of the seriousness of this incident, we brought in SORT operators from throughout the state. And to expedite this, because obviously it was very time-sensitive, we flew about 10 of our SORT operators from downstate to be here to help with this entry.

We had probably-- we normally operate about 6 or 8 people on a team. We had probably 20 SORT operators make this entry with an FBI regional SWAT team.

KATHY HOCHUL: Tell 'em what the SORT stands for.

- What SORT stands for is our special operations response team. They are-- like, most agencies have a SWAT team. We do that type of thing with our SORT operators. They're full-time in that capacity, but they also do other things that normal SWAT teams don't do.

We respond to high-angle rescue and different things with that team. They're highly trained, highly capable unit that we use for just this type of thing. This is what they trained for. This is what they live for-- to make entries like this and save someone's life.

KATHY HOCHUL: All right. Thank you, everybody. Appreciate it.

- I have two questions. Is this gonna affect how AMBER Alerts are sent out? Because was there a delay at this time? Because a lot of people are asking about that.

- Is the park back open tomorrow?

- We'll get back to you on that. I would assume it will probably be back open, but we're not sure.

- Any idea on the motive?

- Any updates tomorrow that we should be aware of?

- When we have more information, we'll have updates on our website [INAUDIBLE].

- Any press conferences we should be aware of tomorrow?

- With this tonight, probably not. But we'll let you know if we decide to do something, if we have more information than we gave here. It's an ongoing, active investigation, so we have a lot of work to do with this.

- Were police present at the home when the ransom note was dropped?

- They were in the area. They were in the area. They were not able to get the vehicle. There were some--