ABERDEEN, Md. – Cal Ripken Jr.’s 74-year-old mother was found with her hands bound in the back seat of her car Wednesday after she said she was kidnapped at gunpoint a day earlier at her home outside Baltimore and driven around blindfolded by her abductor, police and neighbors said.
Investigators do not know the kidnapper’s motive and there was no ransom demand for Vi Ripken’s release, Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert said at a news conference.
The gunman forced Ripken into her silver Lincoln Continental between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Tuesday, police said. She was found bound and unharmed but shaken at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday near her home in Aberdeen, about 30 miles northeast of Baltimore.
When asked if police believe the kidnapper knew who he was abducting, Trabert did not answer, saying investigators don’t know the motive or if the suspect has any ties to the Ripken family.
A next-door neighbor said Vi Ripken told him her kidnapper didn’t seem to know that her son was the Hall of Fame infielder nicknamed “Iron Man” for playing in 2,632 consecutive games during his 21-year career with the Baltimore.
Gus Kowalewski said he spoke with Vi Ripken later Wednesday morning and she told him the gunman tied her hands and put a blindfold on her, but said he wouldn’t hurt her.
“He lit cigarettes for her, they stopped for food,” Kowalewski said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to take you back,’ and that’s what he did.”
Kowalewski said Ripken told him the gunman originally planned to put tape over her eyes.
“But he didn’t do that because she said ‘please don’t do that ’cause I’m claustrophobic,’ ” said Kowalewski, a 72-year-old retired autoworker.
Instead, the gunman put some type of mask or blinders on her, and she could see somewhat out the sides, he said.
Ripken told her neighbor the gunman also didn’t seem to know she was part of the Ripken family, who is well-known throughout the Baltimore area and to baseball fans all over.
“He said he just wanted money and her car,” Kowalewski said.
Three years after voluntarily ending his Iron Man streak, Ripken Jr. retired in 2001. He is the chairman and founder of Ripken Baseball Inc., which he runs along with his brother, Bill.
He owns three minor-league baseball teams, including the Single A IronBirds based at the Ripken Baseball complex in Aberdeen, a middle-class area of about 15,000 people. Kowalewski said Ripken told him the gunman asked her about items in the car related to the Ironbirds and did not seem to know about the team.
Mike Hudson, 43, whose mother lives across the street from Ripken, said he was surprised the kidnapper came back to the neighborhood because police were swarming over the area about midnight.
“It’s just hard to believe the guy came all the way back on the street and dropped her off. That makes me believe he was local, very local,” said Hudson, who is staying at his mother’s house while visiting with his daughter.
“I came out again at like five something, and all that scene was gone, I remember that. When I came out at eight, it was all crazy again with helicopters going over and I saw the car right away,” Hudson said.
Ripken’s car didn’t appear to be damaged, he said.
“This has been a very trying time for our family, but we are grateful and relieved that mom is back with us, safe and healthy,” the Ripken family said in a statement. “We want to thank everyone for their tremendous support, especially all of the law enforcement agencies that worked so hard and quickly.”
Investigators determined that Ripken was missing Tuesday night after talking to Baltimore County Police, who notified the media about her disappearance shortly before she was found. The county borders the one where Aberdeen is located.
Aberdeen authorities have asked Baltimore County Police not to release its 911 tapes because the investigation is continuing. Police also would not say whether Ripken’s credit or ATM cards had been used.
Vi Ripken described her abductor as a tall, thin white man with glasses wearing camouflage clothing, but police had no other details. The FBI and Maryland State Police were also involved in the investigation.
Ripken’s brother, Bill, played second base in the major leagues. The two were managed for a time on the Orioles by their father and Vi’s husband, Cal Ripken Sr., who died in 1999.
The family said that it could not comment further due to the ongoing investigation.
After the gunman left, Ripken honked her car’s horn until a neighbor found her, Kowalewski said. He said he was surprised the honking didn’t wake him up. Someone reported a suspicious car to authorities and she was found, police said.
Vi Ripken is founding chairwoman of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which, according to its website, helps to build character for disadvantaged young people. Besides Cal and Bill, she has another son and a daughter.
The Ripken Baseball complex also is home to the annual Cal Ripken World Series for 11- and 12-year-olds. Cal Ripken Baseball is the name for the 5-to-12-year-old division of the Babe Ruth League.
Ripken’s business empire also includes youth baseball camps and clinics, a minor-league stadium design firm, a merchandising arm and a charitable foundation. Ripken has no formal role with the Orioles but has spoken about his desire to return to the team.
Ripken works as a studio analyst for TBS during its postseason baseball coverage. He is a pitchman for brands including Energizer, Under Armour and Chevrolet.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Ben Nuckols contributed to this story from Washington.