A set of Utah parents were awakened to an unsettling noise for 4:30 in the morning: the sound of their front door opening and their 5-year-old daughter talking.
When the father rushed outside in his pajama pants and hoodie Friday he saw the terrifying sight of his 5-year-old stepdaughter in the arms of a stranger who was carrying her away across the front lawn. The man had snatched the girl out of her bed in the basement moments earlier after coming in the house through an unlocked door, police said.
The father confronted the man, demanding that he give the girl back. Without a fight, the intruder handed her over, and then fled the scene.
“There was a man in my home and he took my 5-year-old daughter,” said the mother, crying, in a 911 call moments later. “I happened to wake up and he had my daughter outside. My husband ran out there and got her from him. But he took my daughter.”
“But do you have your daughter back now?” said the dispatcher.
“Yeah, but he’s out there somewhere,” she said. “He came in my home…He took my daughter from my house.”
A man later identified as Troy Morley, 48, of Roy, Utah, was caught two blocks away after breaking into another house in a middle-class neighborhood in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy. Morley was arrested and booked on charges of child kidnapping, burglary, trespassing and resisting arrest.
The 5-year-old girl wasn’t hurt in the frightening experience, but the incident has evoked haunting echoes of when 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was snatched out of her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002. She was held captive for nine months before being found.
The abduction attempt was not targeted, but a random incident, said Sandy Police Sgt. Dean Carriger. The family said they don’t know Morley.
The intruder was in the family’s basement searching through things when he came upon the girl sleeping in her bedroom, Carriger said. Police don’t know what his motive was.
“It obviously was a very scary, traumatic situation,” Carriger said. “The sanctity of our home is huge and for somebody to enter that and grab your child, it’s got to be one of the worst nightmares a parent could face. … If those parents were not awakened to go out and investigate, he could have easily left undetected with the girl.”
After the 911 call, officers set up a perimeter, and with the help of police dogs, launched a search. The suspect went into a second home two blocks away through a doggy door in an attempt to evade capture. The dogs at that house alerted the residents, who yelled at police already in the area to come get him.
Police captured the Morley outside the second home thanks to a police dog that bit the suspect in the upper shoulder, Carriger said.
Morley isn’t on Utah’s sex offender registry and online court records only show a pair of divorces and DUI charges.
The family of the girl declined to talk about the experience through family spokesman Miles Holman, who said they are doing well considering the circumstances. Holman called it a miracle that the parents woke up in time.
“Thirty seconds later and it would have been all over,” Holman said. “He would have been long gone.”
A Thanksgiving wreath hung from the family’s front door Friday. Along a sidewalk leading to the front porch were several pumpkins, including a red one painted as an Angry Bird and another with a princess figurine on top.
The backyard butts up against a canal that separates the neighborhood from a bustling shopping center in the heart of Sandy, a city of 90,000 people that, like most parts of Utah, is predominantly Mormon.
“Things like that just don’t happen around here,” said Melissa Johnson, 26, who is staying in her parents’ house that is next to the home where the abduction event occurred.
She said her younger sibling heard screams and commotion in the early morning and came to sleep with her downstairs. Johnson said they attend the same Mormon congregation as the family.
“I’ve been thinking that the Heavenly Father had a hand it,” Johnson said. “He was protecting them. . . I just hope it won’t be traumatizing for the little girl.”
Johnson and other neighbors say it’s a scary thought that a man capable of snatching a child was roaming their neighborhood in the night.
April Parry, a mother of three children who lives down the street, said she and her husband are considering an alarm system.
“That is your biggest fear as a parent,” Parry said. “It can happen anytime, that’s what makes it scary.”
About 45 miles north in Roy, where Morley lived, neighbors said they weren’t the least bit surprised to find out the man known as a super creep had been accused7 of trying to abduct a girl.
Next-door neighbor Andrea Shearer, 33, said she forbid her children to interact with Morley after a series of bizarre and inappropriate conversations. Shearer said Morley had been caught sneaking into backyards, including hers. She obtained a no trespass order on him from police.
She said she believes Morley had a meth addiction. He talked about a satanic cult causing his wife to leave him and having critters crawling through the attic, she said.
“He scared me. I’m so glad he’s gone,” said Shearer, a health care professional. “You always hear people saying about their neighbor that they seemed so quiet and normal. Not him, I’m not surprised.”