A mother from San Jose was arrested Tuesday in Colorado less than 12 hours after she was identified by Las Vegas police as the suspect in the death of her 7-year-old son, whose body was found by hikers in Nevada more than 10 days ago.
An FBI task force arrested Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, 35, at a hotel in eastern Denver not far from Interstate 70, Las Vegas police Lt. Ray Spencer said.
“We are all relieved that we were able to get her into custody so quickly,” said Spencer, the homicide lieutenant who has made nearly daily pleas for public help to identify the boy, Liam Husted, since his body was found May 28.
Rodriguez will be jailed in Denver pending a court appearance and her extradition to Nevada to face a murder charge, Las Vegas police said.
Spencer said Las Vegas police detectives were on the way to Denver to interview Rodriguez. It was not immediately known if she had a lawyer to speak in her defense.
On Monday, the child was identified for the first time and a murder warrant was issued in Las Vegas for Rodriguez.
U.S. & World
Authorities have not disclosed how Liam died, but Spencer has said it was clear he was killed.
Friends and neighbors of Liam described him as a vibrant boy with special needs who loved to swim.
Sophia Rogue was stunned to learn about Liam's death. She said she distinctly remembers the last time she saw Rodriguez and Liam.
"The last time I've ever seen them, the mom was holding her son pretty tight," Rogue said. "It didn't look like a pleasant thing for the kid. I kind of felt bad for the child."
Rodriguez and her son left San Jose on May 24 in a dark blue 2007 Dodge Caliber packed full of belongings, Spencer said. Liam's father returned home in late May to find their belongings gone and a message from Rodriguez.
"'I’m sorry I had to do it like this,'" Spencer said when speaking about the letter. "She also goes on to say that, 'I'm going to try to get a house for Liam and I,' and that, 'We can talk about this in the future.'"
Spencer said Liam’s father in San Jose reported the boy missing June 1, and was not a suspect in Liam’s death.
"On June 1, the victim's father called in a report that mom and Liam, he hadn’t heard from them, he hadn't seen them," San Jose police Sgt. Christian Camarillo said. "At that time, he was not sure if he wanted to pursue any type of child stealing, parental abduction charges on mom."
Police said there was no evidence of long-term abuse or calls for social services.
The mother and son were seen May 26 in two Southern California cities, Laguna Beach and Victorville, Spencer said, before they arrived in Las Vegas.
Police believe Liam’s body was left after dark May 27 or early May 28 hidden behind a bush at a trailhead off State Route 160, the main highway between Las Vegas and rural Pahrump.
Police learned since Monday where the mother and son stayed in the Las Vegas area, but Spencer declined Tuesday to describe the place or what investigators found there.
Liam’s body remained unidentified until a family friend told San Jose police on Friday that she had not seen Rodriguez or Liam and she recognized the boy from a widely distributed rendering prepared by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The boy’s identity was the focus of an intense public campaign that included an offer from the FBI of up to $10,000 for information. Officials have not said if anyone became eligible for the reward.
Las Vegas police used DNA evidence collected from clothing and a pillow that belonged to Liam to confirm his identity, Spencer said.
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.