Woman accused of trying to kidnap 4-year-old outside California school struggles with mental illness, ex-husband says

VACAVILLE, Calif. -- A parent dropping off her child at Cooper Elementary School in Vacaville, California noticed something strange Thursday morning.

"I just went in to take him to class and I came out to my vehicle and the principal and everybody were outside," Misty Gifford told KTXL.

Vacaville Police Lt. Mark Donaldson said officers were called out for reports of a woman displaying erratic and concerning behavior.

Police later arrested the woman, identified as 56-year-old Aileen Caringal, on several charges including kidnapping and trespassing.

"She was taking pictures of cars and of people in the area. Then, at one point, she attempted to open a car door as a parent was dropping off their child," Donaldson said.

Officers said Caringal grabbed the hand of a 4-year-old boy who was walking with a stepparent before trying to leave the campus.

Donaldson said when the stepparent confronted Caringal, she falsely identified herself as a teacher at the school.

Caringal's ex-husband Arthur Caringal told KTXL Thursday that she struggles with mental illness and was off her medication.

Relatives said they have not been able to see Caringal since her arrest and have not been able to get any information about her case from authorities.

“She’s a very good person,” Arthur Caringal said. “It just happened that not medicating, not going to the therapist, it leads to this tragic example.”

Aileen Caringal was said to be calling for Brian, her son’s name, when she showed up at Cooper Elementary School. Brian, now 17, attended Cooper Elementary years ago. He declined to speak on camera Friday.

“She stopped taking her medication and they, the brothers and sisters trying to intervene trying to help her. There’s a bunch of records. The family was contacting Vacaville PD to do a welfare check for her, to do an intervention but she kept refusing,” Arthur Caringal said.

As a registered nurse, her ex-husband says she’s resisted medication because she was intimately aware of the side effects.

He also says Aileen’s episodes plagued their almost 20-year marriage, were a contributing factor in their divorce last year, and that’s there’s no way to describe the frustration of trying to help someone you love who’s refusing to be helped.

If you or someone you know needs help, Mental Health America has a 24-hour crisis center: 1-800-273- TALK (8255). You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting MHA to 741741.

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