An SUV with a sleeping toddler in the back seat was stolen outside a La Jolla sandwich shop Wednesday, prompting an intensive two-hour search before the vehicle was found abandoned with the child inside unharmed.
The auto theft-kidnapping occurred in front of Subway in the 2200 block of Torrey Pines Road shortly before 2:30 p.m., according to San Diego police.
The 2-year-old girl's mother told investigators she left the keys in the ignition of the SUV, with her daughter in the back seat, when she went into the eatery.
"The only reason I came out here was to get a menu for her birthday party and now I don't even have her. She was taking a nap (and) I just went in to get a menu -- came out and (she) was gone," Julie Mitchell said.
When she went back outside minutes later, her beige 1997 Toyota 4-Runner was gone, along with the child.
Authorities issued a child abduction alert, urging the public to be on the lookout for the stolen vehicle.
About 4:30 p.m., a caller reported spotting the SUV at La Jolla Shores Drive and North Torrey Pines Road, just outside the University of California, San Diego. The girl was alone inside the SUV, uninjured.
Witnesses said the abductor may have been a tall, white-haired man who had been in the area of the sandwich shop around the time of the crime.
They described him as a white man in his 30s or 40s, possibly dressed in women's clothing, a dispatcher said.
He remained at large in the late afternoon.
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