Milton, New York – A couple of idling police cars seemed somewhat out of place at the mouth of a street leading to a cul-de-sac in upstate New York a few hours before law enforcement swarmed their neighborhood, residents said.
It was shortly before 6 p.m. Monday when Charlene and her oldest daughter Briella, 11, noticed the police activity about 200 yards to the right of their home.
At that point, they did not know that abducted 9-year-old Charlotte Sena was allegedly being held against her will by Craig Ross Jr. five minutes away in the other direction.
As time passed, they saw an ambulance. Then, a helicopter circled overhead. Then, a convoy of law enforcement vehicles, including from state police and the FBI, rolled through their neighborhood and stopped on the street near their home.
“Then you just knew,” Charlene told Fox News Digital Monday night. “They found Charlotte.”
The little girl had been missing since Saturday, when Ross Jr. allegedly abducted her from Moreau Lake State Park – a popular, 4,600-acre camping site nestled between Lake George and Saratoga Springs – where she was staying with her family.
Law enforcement in full tactical gear blasted through a camper behind Ross Jr.’s mother’s double-wide trailer and found Charlotte in a cabinet, Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a press conference Monday night.
“They had 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, covered. She was rescued,” Hochul said.
“And she knew she was being rescued. And she knew that she was in safe hands.”
No details about Sena’s condition were released, but the governor said there does not appear to be “outward harm,” and state police said she is “in good health.”
The young girl is recovering and being evaluated in a hospital.
Her aunt, Jene Sena, told Fox News Digital in a text, “We are just elated she came home.”
Sense of safety is robbed from a community
Sena’s missing persons case seized the region like a bear in a trap, and robbed some families in the community of their sense of safety.
Charlene stopped letting her oldest daughter ride her bike or take the bus since news broke of the abduction, and she has been scared to let her two younger daughters play outside their own home.
“When I found out how close it was to me, it really hit home,” Charlene said. “My oldest is 11 and my youngest is five, and they ride through this part all the time.
“Now it makes me more suspicious of everybody, because you’re going on a bike ride, and you’re that close to your family, and you’re just gone in an instant.”
Charlene was referring to Sena, who had been riding her bike close to her family’s campsite when she was snatched on “Loop A,” which is easily accessible from Old Saratoga Road.
Only a rusted, brittle fence about chest high that can easily be stomped on separates the park from that section of the campsite.
Charlene said she has not seen the suspect in person, but the thought of him living under her family’s nose for years is terrifying.
“If he’s a predator, it’s a hunting ground for him. He could’ve been riding around this part when my kids were out,” she said.
WATCH FAMILY VIDEO OF CHARLOTTE SENA
Safety and this type of alleged, brazen crime is not usually a concern for the typically serene setting near the Hudson River, residents near the state park told Fox News Digital.
Around the corner from the alleged abduction site, Phil and Gail have lived with their dogs in a beautiful home and take advantage of the scenery.
Gail likes to go for walks along the lake, and Phil likes to fish. “Nothing like this has ever happened. It’s very quiet,” Phil said as a large group of rescue searchers walked by their home.
“It’s scary now,” Phil said. “The whole world is going to hell.”
There was nowhere in the area to escape the crime. Seemingly everyone for miles knew about the case and were on edge.
Missing flyer posters were plastered all over gas stations, stores and food establishments, while dozens of digital signs about an amber alert lined several major highways between New York City and Saratoga County, which is about 45 miles north of Albany.
By Monday afternoon, the search effort swelled from 100 to 400 people. Searchers told Fox News Digital Monday afternoon that the park’s terrain vastly varies, including steep elevations and brush so dense they had to split the shrubbery with every step.
At least a half dozen checkpoints were set up all around the park, where New York State troopers stopped every vehicle, checked trunks and asked for information.
This case hit Briella, who is only two years older than Charlotte and has a sister who is one year young than her, particularly hard.
“I was only thinking about (Charlotte),” she said. “Through school, that’s all I was thinking about. I couldn’t get anything on top of my mind. I was just praying and hoping she was OK, because she’s just a little girl.”
At her young age, if she was in Sena’s position, Briella said all she would be able to think about is, “Is anyone looking for me? Am I ever going to get back home?”
Charlene taught her girls to be safety conscious, even before Sena’s case rocked the area, and uses safety code words that only her mom and her girls know.
Done in by his own ransom note
Ross Jr. allegedly left a ransom note in the Sena family’s mailbox around 4:20 a.m. Monday, Hochul said.
Police traced the fingerprints on the note to Ross Jr.’s 1999 DWI arrest in Saratoga County, and identified him as the suspect within 10 hours, according to the governor.
Hochul said most stories do not end like this, but “Charlotte will be going home.”
“I’m happy we have a positive outcome,” Charlene said as she smiled to her daughter.