SAN DIEGO — A woman accused of stealing a car containing two young children from outside a Lincoln Park cellphone store and driving to the U.S.-Mexico border, where federal agents arrested her and rescued the unharmed youngsters, pleaded not guilty Friday to kidnapping and child abduction charges.
Leslie Esparanza Saenz, 26, was ordered held without bail pending a review hearing next Wednesday.
The father of the 8-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy parked his gold Hyundai Excel outside the Cricket Wireless shop in the 200 block of Euclid Avenue about 12:15 p.m. Monday and went into the business by himself, leaving the vehicle unlocked and its engine running, according to San Diego police.
Moments later, a woman who appeared to be in her late teens got into the car and drove off to the east on Imperial Avenue with the children still inside, Officer Luis Roman said.
Police searched for the stolen car and missing children until shortly before 2 p.m., when the Hyundai arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry at the southern terminus of Interstate 5. There, federal agents who had gotten a be-on- the-lookout bulletin regarding the auto theft and kidnapping took the driver — who was later identified as Saenz — into custody without incident.
Authorities then reunited the children, who had suffered no injuries during the ordeal, with their father and returned his car to him, Roman said. Police have not established a motive for the alleged kidnapping.