A San Diego man is facing a felony charge for allegedly trying to kidnap a 6-year-old girl from her blind father after encountering them on a Metro train as they were making their way home to the Westlake area of Los Angeles, police reported Wednesday.
Elijah John Lopez, 24, is charged with one count of attempted kidnapping in connection with the alleged abduction Aug. 18 near Sixth and Coronado streets.
He was arrested Sept. 2 in San Diego County and subsequently returned to Los Angeles. He's being held on $125,000 bail, jail records show.
Lopez -- who has pleaded not guilty -- could face up to 23 years in state prison if convicted as charged, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Lopez struck up a conversation with Cesar Palma and his daughter Selena while on a Metro train from Long Beach to Los Angeles, and asked if he could take the girl home. At that point, several people on the train stepped in to assist the father and daughter, police said.
"This overt action caused the commuting public that was on the train to step forward and tell Mr. Lopez to leave the family alone,” LAPD Capt. Alfonso Lopez told reporters at a news conference at the LAPD's Rampart Station. “One would think that would stop his action, but it did not.”
When the father and child got off the train at the 7th Street Metro station downtown, Lopez followed, and bystanders again intervened, Lopez said.
Get Los Angeles's latest local news on crime, entertainment, weather, schools, COVID, cost of living and more. Here's your go-to source for today's LA news.
“His overbearingness while walking to the bus line was so obvious and disturbing to additional Angelenos, that they in turn stepped forward and told Lopez to leave the family alone,” he said.
No one contacted police, however, and Lopez followed the victims as they boarded a bus and continued to speak to them, prompting yet another group of fellow commuters to come to their aid, the captain said.
When they got off the bus and began walking home, Lopez followed, he said. At the intersection of Sixth and Coronado streets, Lopez allegedly tried to grab the girl's hand and pull her away, but the father held on to his daughter and screamed for help.
A woman and a homeless man intervened, and Lopez fled before police could arrive. “When he tried to grab her, that's when I turned around and started yelling at him, stay the bad-word away from us, that's when the neighbors stepped in and he started walking away,” Palma said at the news conference at the Rampart Station, his daughter at his side.
“In my mind, I wanted to turn around and fight with him,” Palma said. “But I thought, if I let my daughter go ... and he snatches her and he can run with her, how am I going to run after them? It's unsafe out there -- there's a lot of crazy people. Just hold on to your kids, don't let them wander off, because anything could happen.”
Investigators used surveillance video from public transportation to identify Lopez as the suspect. Authorities said they believe Lopez rode public transportation to target victims in both Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
Investigators believe Lopez may have targeted other young children on public transportation in both Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
“We believe that Elijah Lopez utilizes public transportation to not only traverse between the counties of Southern California, but to target victims,” Lopez said.