FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) The parents of a month-old boy who police say was kidnapped because of a debt confirm they owed money to a smuggling ring, but they don't believe it was the smugglers who took their baby, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Police Chief Hilton Daniels said Saturday that authorities believe Bryan Dos Santos Gomes was taken as payment of his Brazilian parents' debt.
The boy's parents, Maria Fatima Ramos Dos Santos, 23, and Jurandir Gomes Costa, 26, told the News-Press of Fort Myers that they owed ``coyotes,'' human smugglers, a few hundred dollars. They said they believe it's unlikely the men were behind the kidnapping, though.
The couple would not elaborate. ``They are afraid to talk,'' family friend Keyla Desousa, 30, said through a translator.
Police representatives wouldn't comment Sunday on the parents' comments.
The police theory that the boy was taken because of the debt sparked concerns for the boy's safety.
``There's a part of me that hopes they're wrong. If it's a reprisal abduction and we have not heard from the abductors in more than a week, it does not bode well for the baby,'' said John Rabun, executive vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va.
The boy's mother, accompanied by another woman and her baby, were approached December 1st by a woman driving a sport utility vehicle. The women agreed to give directions and got into the SUV with their children, police said.
The driver later forced the other woman and her child out of the SUV at knifepoint, police said. Ramos was released south of Fort Myers but the driver kept the baby, authorities said.
Ramos said through a Portuguese translator Saturday that the smugglers brought her and Costa into the United States through Mexico about two years ago.
There was no immediate response Sunday to a call seeking comment from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The State Department estimates human smuggling is a $10 billion annual global industry, with hundreds of thousands of people paying to get into the United States each year.