A Mother’s Worst Nightmare
Fusion Center Key in Rescue of Abducted Infant
Surveillance video from a store visited by the victim revealed a grainy Indiana license plate, which fusion center and FBI analysts ultimately linked to a vehicle rented by the suspect.
On a September evening in 2009, a woman answered a knock at her Nashville, Tennessee door from someone claiming to be an immigration agent. A short time later, when police responded to a 911 call from the residence, they found the woman beaten and stabbed—and her 4-day-old son abducted.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) requested assistance from the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), and a command post was established at TBI’s Tennessee Fusion Center (see sidebar), where investigators from all three agencies began working around the clock to locate the missing infant.
“There was a tremendous sense of urgency about the case,” said Special Agent Eric Brown, who works in the FBI’s Nashville Resident Agency out of the Memphis Field Office. “Everyone feared for the life of the child.”
Initially, all that investigators had to go on was the mother’s description of the kidnapper, who had seriously injured her during the attack and abduction. While fusion center personnel began responding to Amber Alert tips coming in from around the country, Brown and others learned from the victim that she had visited a food assistance center and stopped at a local big-box store before returning home on the day of the kidnapping.
Fusion Center Gets Results
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s fusion center in Nashville is made up of local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel who gather, analyze, and share information about terrorism and criminal activity relating to Tennessee. The center played a key role in the quick resolution of the Tammy Silas case.
“Coordination and collaboration between multiple agencies that occupy the same jurisdiction is what the fusion center is all about,” said Margie Quin, TBI’s assistant special agent in charge of the center. “It is critically important that the FBI is a solid partner in the fusion center, and they definitely are,” she added. “Having the FBI right here, working day in and day out, is invaluable, and it fosters great relationships with all law enforcement.”
FBI Special Agent Eric Brown noted that the fusion center was able to facilitate efforts and maximize resources for all the agencies working on the Silas case. “Without the fusion center as our command post,” he said, “it would have been difficult to coordinate all the information coming in and successfully pursue the investigation.”
- More on the TBI Fusion Center
MNPD detectives immediately requested and received surveillance video from the store. “In the parking lot video, we could see that a car appeared to be mimicking the movements of the car the victim was in,” Brown said. “When her car pulled in, the other car pulled in. When she pulled out, the other car pulled out and followed.”
The video also revealed a partial, grainy license plate image that was sent to a lab for enhancement. Because of the urgency of the case, the lab work that might have taken days to complete took only hours—and it showed a more complete tag number as well as a state: Indiana.
Fusion center and FBI analysts worked to narrow the possibilities and eventually came up with a vehicle owned by a rental car company. At the company’s airport rental counter, surveillance video showed that the woman who rented the car in question fit the description of the kidnapper. The car company also provided credit card and contact information for the renter, Tammy Silas, who lived just across the Tennessee line in Alabama.
Silas’ credit card transactions put her close to the victim’s house at the time of the abduction. Investigators also obtained bank surveillance video showing her withdrawing money from a nearby ATM—and a baby car seat could clearly be seen next to her in the passenger seat.
The kidnapping took place on a Tuesday evening, when Silas knocked on the victim’s door pretending to be an immigration official. That Friday night, investigators knocked on Silas’ door in Alabama, arrested her, and recovered the baby—now 6 days old—unharmed.
“Tammy Silas had a desire to have a baby,” Brown said, “and she went to great lengths to obtain one, even if it meant kidnapping and assaulting the mother.” Silas pled guilty to kidnapping last February and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.
“We were able to solve this case so quickly because all the agencies involved worked together and brought their own expertise to the investigation,” said Sgt. Daniel Postiglione, a veteran MNPD investigator. “We were all very thankful to get the baby back to his mother in so short a period of time.”