SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A San Jose police officer who rescued an 11-month girl from a stolen vehicle after a nearly five-hour ordeal Monday said the infant was crying when he found her and gave him a hug when he took her out.

Officer Carlos Acosta described as “gut wrenching” the few minutes after someone reported seeing the parked car to when he found the girl crouching in a child seat, distressed but unharmed.

Acosta, a 14-year veteran officer, accompanied the infant in an ambulance to a hospital and she was “very excited” during an emotional reunion with her mother.

“It was a great feeling to locate her safely and return her to her mother,” Acosta said at a news conference this afternoon outside police headquarters at 201 W. Mission St. in San Jose.

The child, Gabriela Quintero, was inside a Jeep Liberty that was stolen from outside her mother’s San Jose home around 6:45 a.m. and prompted authorities to issue an Amber Alert, police said.

The Jeep was found at an apartment complex near the Seven Trees Community Center after a citizen reported it to an apartment security guard who called 911 at 11:17 a.m., police Sgt. Jason Dwyer said.

Acosta and an unidentified police recruit, who were patrolling the area, received the call and arrived at 11:22 a.m. to find the white 2006 Jeep in a carport area in the 400 block of Amargosa Court, Dwyer said.

The Jeep was parked unevenly and the hazard lights were blinking which attracted the interest of the citizen who reported the vehicle, Dwyer said.

The suspected car thief was still at large and police are not sure if the suspect is male or female since no one reported seeing the driver enter or leave the Jeep, Dwyer said.

The girl’s mother, Graciella Quintero, said she had noticed a suspicious woman who was wearing a dark top and dark pants and carrying a red-and-white Target bag near the Jeep shortly before it was stolen, Dwyer said.

“We want to know who took the car and what their motivation was,” he said.

Acosta said after he and the recruit reached the Jeep, he looked in and saw the girl reflected in the rear view mirror.

He tried one door that was locked and opened another door to find the girl crying, crouching and unbuckled in the baby seat.

Acosta, the father of two sons and a daughter, said the girl appeared “distraught” and “in a daze” and that he became emotional himself, reacting “like a dad” and “feeling like most parents would have.”

“She did give me a hug” afterom paramedics to stay with her for the ride to the hospital.

He remained next to her while she sat in her car seat with a toy a citizen had given her, Acosta said.

The officer thanked the approximately 50 police officers who participated in the successful Amber Alert search.

“It’s been a very good day,” Acosta said.

The girl was in good health but taken to the hospital as a precaution, police said.

The Jeep was stolen from the 2300 block of Amador Court, off of Story Road, a few blocks from Interstate 680.

Her mother had placed her in a car seat in the backseat of the Jeep but had not yet strapped her in, Dwyer said.

Quintero was bringing items from her house to her car and stepped away from the Jeep momentarily, leaving the key in the ignition with the engine off, Dwyer said. When she came back outside, she saw the Jeep driving away.

Her daughter, whose first birthday is in four days, was gone, police said.

She called police, who arrived within three minutes, Dwyer said.

The mother described the suspicious woman as white or Hispanic and in her 30s, wearing a dark top and dark pants, and carrying a red-and-white Target bag. There is a Target store nearby but the store was closed at the time.

Quintero, who is a single mother, did not recognize the suspect but saw her standing nearby before the car was stolen, Dwyer said.

Dwyer said the mother was “understandably shaken.”

“It’s very difficult to interview someone in that condition,” he said.

It is unclear whether the car thief knew there was a baby in the Jeep, but Dwyer said police are treating the case as a stranger abduction.

San Jose police officers looked for the Jeep and the girl while law enforcement agencies throughout the Bay Area were on alert. The California Highway Patrol was involved, and an aerial search was conducted.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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