DeKalb County

‘They intended to raise this baby’: New information released about 1-year-old’s kidnapping

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Police say a couple who kidnapped a 1-year-old in Chamblee on Saturday intended to raise the baby as their own.

Mateo Alejandro Montufar-Barrera was kidnapped from his stroller Saturday afternoon at the Balfour Chamblee Apartments on Clairview Drive. The boy’s mother, Leslie Barrera, told police she was walking Mateo in his stroller near their apartment when a man got out of an Acura SUV and pointed a gun at her.

Chamblee police said Leslie Barrera was able to grab the gun from the man and tried to shoot him, but the gun didn’t go off.

“She fought them tooth and nail. She took his gun and tried to shoot him with it. She tore his shorts and kept his shoe. She showed us a mother’s love in action and we are so proud of her,” Chamblee Assistant Police Chief Mike Beller said.

While Barrera fought the man, investigators say the man’s wife, who was disguised as a male, jumped out and grabbed the baby from the stroller.

The couple then took off. They were tracked down five hours later in Carroll County, where Maynor Dario Valera Zuniga and Kristin Nicole Valera Zuniga were arrested. Baby Mateo, who was dressed as a girl, was rescued and returned to his mother.


During a news conference Monday, police described what led up to the kidnapping and the rescue. (Watch the raw video at the bottom of this story)

Chamblee Police Chief Kerry Thomas touted the collaboration among his department, DeKalb County, Carroll County, the GBI, the FBI, the Georgia State Patrol and others as the reason they were able to rescue Mateo unharmed.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces, and there’s a lot of people who deserve the credit,” Thomas said.

The Motive

Thomas said the crime was completely random. According to FBI Agent-In-Charge Chris Hacker, stranger abductions are only about 5% of all the missing children they investigate.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 25 years and this is the first time I’ve been involved in a case like this and that shows you how rare a case like this is,” Hacker said,

Thomas said they believe the couple was in the area looking for a child to abduct when they saw Barrera walking with Mateo.

“It was an opportunity,” Thomas said.

Beller said investigators have since learned that this was not the first attempted abduction that day.

Minutes before grabbing Mateo, Beller said the couple saw a mother walking down the street with a baby in a blanket on her back and the man jumped out with a gun. The mother took off running into a nearby apartment. The couple then got back in the car and continued driving in the area, where they came across Mateo and his mother.

“The reason I’m mentioning that is because that woman never called 911. We don’t know who she is. She represents an additional attempted kidnapping charge that we need to make,” Beller said.

The department is encouraging the woman to come forward.

“We always try and tell our citizens that they don’t have to fear calling the Chamblee Police Department. We try and protect and serve every resident of this city regardless of their immigration status,” Beller said.

The Takedown

A network of license plate readers across metro Atlanta allowed investigators to get tag numbers and pictures of the car, investigators said. That information, paired with surveillance cameras and tips, led them to a home in Carroll County.

Just as the first trooper and Beller arrived near the home, the car started to pull out of the driveway.

“God’s hand was involved in the timing,” Beller said.

Beller and Trooper First Class Jonathan Nelms were able to block the car in, arrest the couple and rescue baby Mateo.

“None of us can begin to fathom the level of pure evil that must burn in the heart of someone that would tear a child from his mother’s arms,” Beller said. “I’m still surprised at time by the depravity and selfishness that people are capable of.”

The Valera Zunigas have been married about a year and have no children. Police say they live in Brookhaven and had a connection to the home in Carroll County. They are both charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault and battery.