NEW IBERIA, La. — Two men working their trash route this morning spotted the car in which police say a 10-year-old girl was kidnapped last night.
The child was reported missing Sunday evening, and then an Amber Alert was issued later that night. She was found safe this morning. Read more: UPDATE: Missing New Iberia 10-year-old found safe
A man named Dion Merrick posted a live on Facebook saying he spotted the car in a field while working his route.
"People act like they see stuff but they don't want to say nothing. But she's safe now. Thank God man, because I got a little girl. I'm on my job doing what I got to do," Merrick says to the camera.
A law enforcement officer thanks Merrick for calling, and says he'll need to get some information from him before he leaves the scene.
A man can be seen in custody, being taken to a police car. Police tell us the girl was found in St. Martin Parish and was evaluated by medical personnel. The suspect, 33-year-old Michael Sereal of New Iberia, is being held without bond in the Iberia Parish jail on a charge of aggravated kidnapping of a child and failure to register as a sex offender, records show.
The suspect in the video is yelling "why are you doing this to me?" as he is escorted to a police car.
Here's the video. WARNING: Some curse words are used in the video. Viewer discretion advised.
The child disappeared from a relative's home between 1 and 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Initially, State Police issued an alert, saying she was believed to be "in imminent danger." No Amber Alert was issued because there was not a license plate number or specific description of the vehicle she was in. Both are required for an Amber Alert to be issued.
However, several hours later an Amber Alert was issued, after police received a license plate number and specific description of the vehicle.
State Police say they sent the Amber Alert to residents’ phones at 11:45 p.m., around the same time they issued the release to media organizations statewide and all their social media pages. Troopers noticed though, none of the phones went off, despite seeing a “successful” message on their program.
Troopers say they repeatedly kept trying, and even though the program said it was working, it wasn’t. So at 1:18 a.m. they called another agency to send the Amber Alert out on their behalf. We’re told the company that maintains the program is now aware of the issue and working to fix the problem.
State Police hadn’t sent out a statewide Amber Alert since 2018, and there aren’t regular tests like the ones you see on TV or hear on the radio. However, we’re told that may change in the near future.
At the time she was last seen, troopers say she was getting into a gray 2012 Nissan Altima. The driver, and suspect, was identified as Sereal, 33 of New Iberia. State Police say he is an acquaintance of one of the girl's family members.
Sereal is listed on the parish's sex offender database and was convicted in 2016 of carnal knowledge of a juvenile. The database indicates the last time police were able to verify his whereabouts was in 2018, and gives his location as "homeless" in New Iberia. The database also indicates he was supposed to be on supervised release until 2012, but his probation was revoked in 2008.
A Level II Endangered/ Missing Child Advisory was initially issued on Sunday night before being upgraded to an Amber Alert.
State Police said that the information first received on the incident was "too general" for an Amber Alert to be issued.
See that full statement from State Police:
"The criteria to trigger an Amber Alert is very specific information about abductor and or the vehicle, such as license plate. The information given to the local police department was too general.
The general premise behind the Amber alert system was to locate a specific vehicle with a specific license plate or specific abductor, not just an alert for every gray car. With the specific license plate, the general public could see the car and give police the exact location as opposed to reporting on every gray car seen."
More information about Amber Alerts can be found at www.lsp.org