CRIME

Utah teen’s family thanks Nebraska man who found Amber Alert suspect 

Dec 28, 2022, 6:58 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2022, 9:22 am

LAYTON, Utah — The family of a missing Layton teen thanked an attentive gas station attendant who was credited for bringing a Utah Amber Alert to an end.

The missing teen was found safe Wednesday morning 800 miles away in Grand Isle, Nebraska. The suspect, 26-year-old Tadashi Kojima — one of several names that has surfaced for the suspect —  was taken into custody.

Kojima has also been identified by Utah police as Aaron Zeman and was named in the original Amber Alert as Hunter Fox.

The teen’s family said tips poured in thanks to the Amber Alert. They were especially grateful for the stranger in Nebraska who never got that alert but who was paying attention to his surroundings.

“So relieved. Mom and dad are beyond ecstatic that this was the outcome,” close family friend Beth Cooper said. “I learned a lot about the Amber Alert system last night.”

Cooper said once word got out that the 13-year-old boy had gotten into a car with Kojima, the tips started rolling in to investigators and the kid’s parents. A neighbor spotted Kojima’s car on their surveillance video. Police said the two were found in a car at a gas station in Grand Island around 1:15 a.m. Wednesday.

“An alert gas station attendant had actually thought something looked suspicious about the car and these people that were there at the gas station, called the police department and they responded,” said Lt. Travis Lyman with the Layton City Police Department.

Layton police launched the alert Tuesday to locate the 13-year-old, whom detectives said was lured away by Tadashi, of Arizona.

“It is intense how fast putting that notice out puts everyone on alert. Every officer in the state, every unit,” Cooper said.

Ultimately it was an alert attendant at this gas station in Nebraska who noticed something that seemed off. He told police Kojima and the teen had been in the car there too long.

Cooper said, “They’re just appreciative that he made the call. The fact it was less than 48 hours, the whole family is just so relieved that he is safe and out of danger now.”

Layton police said Kojima had been chatting with the teen over the game Roblox, through Oculus VR. Cooper said family members found the interactions weeks ago. “Just gut-wrenchingly, it’s hard to say what else could be done,” she said.

She said the family went to police at the time, but no crime had been committed.

“Just monitor, talk, use this opportunity,” Cooper cautioned parents. “I know we will in my house. Use this opportunity as a scenario. ‘OK, what haven’t we talked about?’”

Cooper explained that this family monitored their kids’ devices and talked with them, but this still happened. They hoped because of this incident that more parents will have open conversations with their kids about these dangers.

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Utah teen’s family thanks Nebraska man who found Amber Alert suspect