LOUISIANA, Mo. — A man suspected in the abduction of a 4-year-old Missouri girl, who was later found safe, shot himself Wednesday when approached by authorities, police said.
St. Louis County Police said in a news release that the man was approached in the city of Hawk Point, which is about halfway between the Mississippi River town where Alisa Maier was taken from her front yard Monday night and the St. Louis suburb where she was found wandering around a car wash late Tuesday about 70 miles away.
The news release did not say whether the man survived the self-inflicted shooting, but police planned to hold an evening news conference.
Earlier Wednesday, celebratory messages graced church billboards and an electronic bank sign as Alisa's small town of Louisiana celebrated her safe return. Visitors to the family's small-frame home left balloons and teddy bears on the porch and in the yard Wednesday.
"I turned on the news, and my wife and I both started crying and fell down to our knees and thanked the Lord," Terry Cook, a pastor who helped organize a Tuesday night prayer vigil for Alisa, said about finding out the girl was safe. "What else could we do?"
Cook had organized a Tuesday night vigil for the girl that drew 400 people, more than the town's Fourth of July festival.
Alisa was taken to a Fenton hospital shortly after being found late Tuesday, then to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis for evaluation. The little girl and her parents left Cardinal Glennon about 7:30 a.m., hospital spokesman Bob Davidson said.
"They all looked really tired, like they'd been through a lot, but they also looked overwhelmingly overjoyed at being reunited," Davidson said. "Alisa was sitting in her mother's lap in the emergency room and her mother had her arms wrapped around Alisa like she was never going to let her go."
Angela Reddick, Alisa's great-aunt, said she spoke with the girl's parents and was told Alisa was unharmed and had not been assaulted in any way.
"The only thing he did was cut her hair to change her appearance — he tried to disguise the fact she was a girl," Reddick said of the kidnapper. "Evidently this man did not harm her and was not mean to her. She's doing great."
Police confirmed the girl's hair had been cut during her ordeal, but declined to speculate about the reason.
Alisa and her 6-year-old brother, Blake, had been playing in their front yard Monday while their mother was inside preparing dinner. Around 8 p.m., Blake went in and told his mom a stranger in a black car pulled up and ordered Alisa to get in, then drove off.
A frantic search ensued, drawing help from at least five dozen police officers, the FBI and more than 100 volunteers. Hope had started to dim as the Tuesday night prayer vigil broke up and nightfall arrived.
Then, Reddick said, Alisa's parents got a call from police that a child had been found wandering around a car wash in Fenton, a St. Louis suburb. Police faxed a photo to FBI agents stationed in Louisiana, who showed the picture to the parents. They confirmed it was their little girl.
A witness at the Fenton car wash described a sighting similar to Blake's: a dark-colored, four-door car, possibly a Ford Escort, seen leaving the area of the car wash. A dark-skinned white man in his 30s was the driver. Police think the car either had a hole in the muffler or no muffler at all, and it was missing the hubcaps, at least both on the driver's side.
Alisa and her parents were staying away from Louisiana as the police investigation continued. Reddick said it wasn't clear when the family would return to Louisiana, but a big welcome-home party was planned for Saturday.