Suspect accused of stealing vehicle with kids inside goes before - WNEM TV 5

Suspect accused of stealing vehicle with kids inside goes before judge

Posted: Updated:
Leandree Lavelle McNeal (Source: WNEM) Leandree Lavelle McNeal (Source: WNEM)
Photo of car from kidnapping (Source: WNEM) Photo of car from kidnapping (Source: WNEM)
Ariana and Lincoln. Photo provided by family. Ariana and Lincoln. Photo provided by family.
Ariana and Lincoln. Photo provided by family. Ariana and Lincoln. Photo provided by family.
Source: MI Amber Alert Source: MI Amber Alert
BURTON, MI (WNEM) -

A Mid-Michigan man has gone before a judge, accused of taking a car with two children in the backseat.

Watch the arraignment video here.

The suspect, 29-year-old Leandree McNeal of Flint, was taken into custody after a manhunt ensued on March 22, police said. 

That vehicle was reported stolen just before 7 a.m. Wednesday at the Admiral gas station located at 4232 S. Saginaw Street in Burton. It was recovered abandoned around 9:45 a.m. on the north side of Flint with the children safe in the backseat. It's unclear how long they were left alone before being found.

"I cannot give a lot of details at this point how we came about this information, how the investigation progressed and what we're doing at the moment because this is still an ongoing and open investigation," Burton Police Chief Tom Osterholzer said.

McNeal was taken into custody about 5:15 p.m. in Flint. On March 24 he was charged with carjacking and unlawfully driving away of an automobile. The carjacking charge carries a possible penalty of life in prison.

He was not armed, but does have a criminal history, according to police.

The prosecutor's office will also seek to add a violent habitual offender status against McNeal, which would mandate a minimum sentence of 25 years if convicted.

Click here for the police press conference.

Officers had the area of Bundy and Permier in Flint taped off where the car was found. That's near Carpenter Road and I-475.

The Michigan State Police Crime lab was called in to process the vehicle.

Children's mother speaks out

The mother of the children, Kaytlin Fletcher, said she went into the gas station to buy cigarettes and a lighter when she saw a heavy-set man, approximately 5'10" and wearing a red hoodie jump into her 2000 two-door dark blue Monte Carlo with tinted or dark windows. 

Fletcher said she immediately ran out of the gas station and screamed for the man to stop because her children, 2-year-old Ariana and 9-month-old Lincoln Buning, were in the backseat. It's unclear if the car was left running, police said. 

Fletcher said she does not normally drive the Monte Carlo. 

“Just bring my kids back safe. Just put them somewhere safe. You can have the car, I don’t care about the car,” Fletcher said. 

Police said Fletcher could still be charged for leaving her children in the car.

"That decision will ultimately be made by the prosecutor's office," Osterholzer said.

Fletcher said she knows she made a mistake, but will never do it again and wants other parents to keep their eyes open.

"It's a dream come true to have them safe and here with me, but a nightmare to remember at the same time," Fletcher said.

She remembered the moment when she first saw her kids after they were taken.

"I saw my daughter and she wasn't freaking out. That gave me so much relief to know she wasn't as scared as I had imagined her being. Me and her both started crying and we ran to each other," Fletcher said.

She said she is thankful for the Mott Community College officer who rescued her children.

"You are an amazing man. Thank you so much. My family plans on doing something special for him and thanks for getting my babies safe," Fletcher said.

That man is Sgt. Durnell Chaney. He started his Wednesday like any other day, but once he call the call about the abduction he was on a mission.

"As a police officer, definitely I was truly concerned about the kids, and as a parent. We just went and looked and I don't think we were going to give up until we found that car and those babies," Chaney said.

He said after about an hour of searching he felt something in his gut.

"I just had a gut instinct that this vehicle maybe went north. So I decided I was going to go north and check a couple of areas that are known for dumping stolen vehicles and it just so happened that one of those areas was the area," Chaney said.

After checking the plates and confirming he had the right vehicle, Chaney approached cautiously and looked in the back seat.

"I could see the two small kids," he said.

Click here for police expressing thanks for the help in tracking down the children

Police said they recovered Fletcher's phone at Carman and Greenly Streets in Burton after it was thrown from the vehicle. The phone was smashed, they said. 

Investigators believe this was a crime of opportunity. Police believe the suspect was looking for a ride.

He was seen on gas station surveillance video walking along Saginaw Street just prior to jumping into the vehicle according to Burton Police.

"It's just crazy that somebody can do that. Somebody and those kids, to just leave them out in the cold. That's just wrong," said Tori, who lives at the corner where the Monte Carlo was found.

He didn't want to use his last name, but he said he saw the car when he was leaving for a job interview before police had found it.

"I woke up to an Amber Alert, so I came home and there was a car sitting out there and I was wondering what was it. Like how did it get there and what happened? And in my head I'm like they said it was a blue Monte Carlo, so in my head I was thinking that my whole way to my interview," he said.

He said when he came home everything had changed. Police were everywhere and a manhunt was underway.

Amber Alert issued more than two hours after kids were abducted

An Amber Alert was issued by police just after 9 a.m. However, viewers did not report receiving the alert on their phone until 9:42 a.m.

"We have to contact the Michigan State Police and then we work through them. Of course there's a lot of information we need from parents. Even just getting pictures and then getting the pictures onto our computer so we can enter into the Amber Alert. Some of this stuff just takes time," Osterholzer said.

MSP Sgt. Jim Lang said there is a list of questions that needs to be answered in order for the alert to be useful.

"Is it a true abduction? Is there imminent danger where great bodily harm or death could be the result of this abduction? Is there enough information? Do we have enough information to put out to the media to be successful in tracking down the abductor," Lang said.

Osterholzer said after the children were reported abducted, police immediately began gathering information for an Amber Alert.

"It's actually quite a lengthy process to get an Amber Alert out," he said.

To see the interview with the mother, watch below or click here

WARNING: Graphic language used in interview below or click here:

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