A 13-year-old boy left bound and gagged in a remote patch of Florida countryside used a safety pin, a stick and his teeth to free himself from captivity, his family said Tuesday.
Clay Moore's stepfather, Steve Kelle, gave reporters details on how the teen escaped after being abducted at gunpoint from his school bus stop in Parrish, Florida, on Friday morning.
The key to his escape was a safety pin that was holding together a rip in Clay's jacket, Kelle said.
While his abductor was driving Clay away from the bus stop, the boy took the safety pin off his sleeve and nervously played with it, Kelle said.
When Clay was taken from the truck into the woods, he put the safety pin in his mouth, his stepfather said. Asked later by his parents why he did that, he said he "just thought it would be helpful," Kelle said.
The abductor tied Clay up with duct tape and gagged him with a sock, Kelle said.
When the boy was sure the man had left, he spit the sock -- and the safety pin -- onto the ground. With his hands still bound in front of him, Clay used a stick and his mouth to get the pin back.
"He used the safety pin to free himself by picking at [the duct tape] and more or less untying what was binding him," Kelle said. "And then he used that and his mouth once he was free to pull the duct tape off."
Clay estimated the process took as long as an hour, his stepfather said.
The boy then walked until he found a farm worker with a cell phone.
'It's Clay, and I've been kidnapped'
"I got a phone call that I will never forget," Kelle said. "It was a phone number I didn't know. I almost didn't answer it because I'd been receiving a lot of phone calls that day. But I went ahead and answered it, and I heard a voice as calm as if he was calling from a friend's house. And he told me, 'Steve, it's Clay, and I've been kidnapped.' "
Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells praised the teenager's resourcefulness.
"Take a little duct tape, tie it around your arms, see how easy you can get out of it," Wells challenged reporters. "It's not easy, even with a safety pin."
Wells said Tuesday that the investigation into the kidnapping was at "critical mass" and he was "extremely optimistic" authorities would apprehend a suspect "in the near future."
He said there were people cooperating with the investigation who know the whereabouts of Vicente Ignacio Beltran-Moreno, whom police have named as the suspect.
On Sunday, Wells said Clay gave police an accurate description of Beltran-Moreno, 22, which resulted in the issuance of an arrest warrant and led authorities to the man's home.
"He was right on the money with the information that he gave us," Wells told reporters.
Police recovered the red pickup truck allegedly used in the kidnapping at the suspect's home in Bradenton.
Handwritten ransom note
During their investigation, police recovered a handwritten ransom note less than a page long, possibly intended for Clay's parents, that contained unspecified threats, Wells said.
"It was his intention, the suspect's intention, to leave Clay Moore tied in the woods until he got his money," Wells said.
Police said Sunday they believed Beltran-Moreno has fled Florida, but provided no information on his possible whereabouts. Tuesday, Wells declined to talk about where the suspect might be because he didn't want to jeopardize the investigation.
The Manatee County Sheriff's office on Sunday released two photographs of Beltran-Moreno. Police said he has short dark hair and brown eyes, is 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighs 140 pounds, and goes by the nickname "Nacho."
Citing the teen's ability to recall details about the suspect and where he was taken, Wells said "the bottom line is that the man kidnapped the wrong kid."