By Jordan Cohen
Patrolman Ben Harrell, a 15-year veteran of the Warren Police Department, says he was “just doing what I was trained to do” when his instincts and quick work led to an arrest and charges in a Niles child-abduction case last month.
The child’s parents and the city think otherwise. “You are a hero,” said Capt. Ken Criswell, chief of Niles detectives during ceremonies honoring Harrell and other police officers and dispatchers from several departments whose work led to the rescue of 3-year-old Michael Babuka III of Niles Oct. 12.
The abduction occurred when the child’s father, Michael Babuka Jr., had left Michael inside the car with the engine running when he stopped to pick up another child at a John Street home. While the father was inside, the car was stolen with the boy still in the back seat. Police promptly issued an Amber Alert.
Harrell first learned about the abduction when he saw the alert notice on Facebook early the following morning and rushed to the Warren police station to help. He said the information gathered by several departments indicated that a suspect in the case may have been involved in a fight earlier that evening in a Warren Township trailer park.
“I decided to go back to the trailer park, and as I was leaving, I saw the car and followed it,” Harrell said. He stopped the vehicle in Lordstown and arrested the suspect, Ross Francis, 42, of Niles, at gunpoint. Michael was still in the back seat. He was not hurt.
At the Wednesday evening ceremony, Michael’s parents presented plaques to Harrell and to the Niles Police to show their gratitude for the rescue while their son smiled for photographers.
“I’m just grateful and thankful for how it turned out,” said Shannon O’Malley, 22, the boy’s mother.
Francis remains jailed on charges of kidnapping and auto theft.