Mission Valley

Judge orders Mission Valley Mall double-kidnapping suspect held without bail

Rene Lujan is accused of trying to kidnap two girls, 5 and 6, last week outside the mall

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A San Diego Superior Court judge ordered a man who was arrested last week in connection with two separate attempted kidnappings of girls at the Mission Valley Mall to be held without bail.

Rene Lujan, 42, who is accused of kidnapping for the incidents in broad daylight last week, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. Lujan is due back in court on July 3 for a preliminary hearing and face snearly five years in prison if convicted.

In court on Tuesday, Judge John Pro made the bail determination after concluding there was a substantial likelihood that Lujan's release would likely cause harm to other people. Pro also issued a criminal protective order against Lujan, represented by a public defender who referred to her client as Arturo Lujan, instructing Lujan to stay at least 100 yards away from his alleged victims and forbidding him from contacting them in any way, whether by phone, email or any other means.

Outside court after the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Eva Kilamyan said that her office believes there could be additional victims.

“We do believe that there may be more victims out there based on the fact that there are two incidents close in time," Kilamyan said. "We are working on investigating to find out further and we would appreciate any information that the public has in that regard.”

The prosecutor also said that the cases and the suspect are still being investigated and that it was possible that the charges Lujan faces could face in the future, especially if there are any additional victims.

"We are asking the public to give any information they have on anyone else that may have been a victim in this case," Kilamyan said, adding, "whether [the incidents were] reported or unreported because police are looking into whether this may have happened to anyone else.”

The man arrested and charged with trying to kidnap two young girls at Mission Valley Mall will appear in court Tuesday. The mother of one of his accusers spoke with NBC 7's Omari Fleming.

The incidents at Mission Valley Mall

On June 18, a 6-year-old girl was pushing a stroller with her 8-month-old brother inside, walking behind her mother in front of Buffalo Wild Wings when a man came up behind her, grabbed her by the shoulders, picked her up and walked 4-5 feet, according to the San Diego Police Department.

The girl cried out, prompting her mother to turn around and confront the suspect, who said he believed the girl was someone else before he walked away and drove off, police said. The mother and her daughter then went to speak with security at the nearby Target store, where the mother called 911, according to SDPD Lt. Bryan Brecht.

In the second incident, which took place around 2 p.m. on June 20, a girl about 5 years old was picked up by the suspect, who attempted to carry the child away and place her into a vehicle, Meyer said.

the 42-year-old was arrested with a license plate reader’s help. NBC 7's Shandel Menezes explains what happened.

The girl's mother, Amanda Hartwell, told NBC 7 that her daughter, her sister and a friend had just been dropped off at the play area by a family member.

An employee of the bounce house amusement park Inflatable World described the kidnapping. She only wanted to be identified by her first name for fear of her safety.

“I’m thinking maybe that’s their dad, maybe going to pay or something, real quick, and he comes, gets out of the car, grabs the littlest one, picks her up and walks away with her,” Jazmine said.

The Chevy Volt suspected to be driven by the kidnapper pulled over on SR-94 on Thursday.
The Chevy Volt suspected to be driven by the kidnapper pulled over on SR-94 on Thursday.

Without a second thought, she ran out of the park toward the man.

“I immediately knew something was wrong, so I ran out the door and I grabbed her from him and he just dipped,” Jazmine said. “I did ask if they knew him and they said they don’t know him at all.”

The black vehicle in that encounter matched the description of the getaway car driven in Tuesday's incident. Hours later, Lujan was located by police on state Route 94 between Interstates 15 and 805, police said. The vehicle was located with the assistance of digital license plate readers.

The scene at the Mission Valley Mall on Thursday
The scene at the Mission Valley Mall on Thursday

The suspect's father spoke with NBC 7 following the arrest and said his son has struggled with mental health issues and showed sympathy for the victims. He added he feels his son is in a “better place now” for what he’s going through and hopes he can get help.

Court records also show Lujan has been arrested and charged in at least two other cases in 2000 and 2009 for other unknown crimes. The case from 2000 has been sealed by court officials, but the second, later case involved a DUI in East County. Lujan was sentenced the following year to five years probation and 21 days of confinement, as well as a fine.

With reporting by NBC 7's Allison Ash — Ed.

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