Ayvani Hope Perez was found safe Wednesday night after being taken in a home invasion as the search continues for two of her alleged kidnappers. FBI agent Rick Maxwell and Clayton County Police Chief Gregory Porter talk to TODAY's Savannah Guthrie about their ongoing investigation.
The mother of a 14-year-old Georgia girl who police say was kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in the wee hours of the night appears to have a connection to one of the men suspected in the girl's abduction.
Authorities announced the safe return of Ayvani Hope Perez of Ellenwood, a suburb of Atlanta, on Wednesday, and said she was in good health. Two suspects, Juan Alberto Contreras-Rodriguez, 40, and Wildrego Jackson, 29, are in federal custody, Clayton County police chief Gregory Porter said, but added that officials are looking for other potential suspects.
Clayton County Police Department via EPA
Fourteen-year-old Ayvani Hope Perez of Ellenwood, Ga., in an undated photo.
According to court records, Contreras-Rodriguez and Ayvani's mother, Maria Corral, were both arrested in the same 500-pound marijuana bust in 2012.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported four men, including Contreras-Rodriguez, and Corral, were arrested by the Flint Circuit drug task force. Corral was never indicted in the drug trafficking case and all charges were dismissed against Contreras-Ramirez after a search of his Henry County home was ruled unconstitutional because agents didn't have a warrant to search it, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Jackson also has a criminal record that includes four drug convictions. He now faces a federal charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Contreras-Rodriguez is currently being held on federal immigration charges.
Police say the investigation is still active. On Wednesday, investigators released few details about Ayvani's release, other than to say she was dropped off at a home in Conyers, Ga., about 25 miles from where she was kidnapped.
"People worked tireless hours to make sure this young woman was safe," Porter said, adding that Ayvani was found "through hardcore law enforcement work."
According to Clayton County police, two armed men pried open the back door of Ayvani's home at about 2 a.m. Tuesday and entered the house. Ayvani's mother hid with her two kids and poodle, but the men found them, and demanded money and jewelry.
When Ayvani's mom said she didn't have much cash on her, the gunmen shot the dog and abducted Ayvani, who was clad in gray and blue Star Wars pajama pants and a superhero shirt. Her 15-year-old brother wasn't harmed, according to police.
The dog was taken to the vet by the family, but did not survive.
Police had released sketches to the public of the two men after the abduction. On Wednesday, authorities said the men in custody were not the two in the sketches, and said they were among the other possible suspects they were looking for.
Ayvani's community celebrated her safe return late Wednesday.
"She was smiling. She looked very happy to be back home," said Lucille Howard, a neighbor.