A man attacked a woman early yesterday at a Prince George's County gas station, stole her car and drove off with her 10-month-old daughter, police said.
Investigators found the baby unharmed and seated in the back of the SUV more than three hours later at a Fairfax gas station, where the carjacker had stolen a second car and driven off.
"Our jaws dropped," said Esteban Lembert, the owner of the second stolen car, who was with the police when they discovered the child. "There was the baby, very quiet, with the pacifier in her mouth."
Prince George's police declined to identify the victim, a 38-year-old Capitol Heights resident whom paramedics found semiconscious. She was listed in serious condition at Prince George's Hospital Center, where she was reunited with her daughter.
At late afternoon, police were still searching for the carjacker. Police said they had not recovered Lembert's car, a silver, four-door 2002 Toyota Camry with a vanity license plate: LEMBERT.
The attack occurred about 4:30 a.m. at an Exxon station at Marlboro Pike and Silver Hill Road in District Heights, about a mile from the District border.
Patrick Som, 32, who was working in the convenience mart at the gas station, said the woman came to the door, her face covered in blood.
"What happened? What happened?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said, as he helped her sit down on the ground.
It was not until after the woman arrived at the hospital that she was able to tell investigators that her child had been abducted, police said.
About 7:15 a.m., Lembert pulled into an Exxon station on Little River Turnpike in Fairfax County, where his wife, Rita, is a cashier.
Lembert filled his car with gas, then left the vehicle unattended, the key in the ignition, while he went inside to talk to his wife. When he returned to the pump, his car was gone.
After police arrived, Lembert described what had happened. The officer noticed at one of the pumps a silver Saturn SUV with no driver and music blaring from the radio. "He asked me, 'Whose car is that?' and I didn't know," Lembert recounted.
"I went in and looked in the store and the restroom, but there was no one around," he said.
The two men approached the SUV, peered in and saw a baby sitting in the car seat in the back. The officer checked the license plate number and found that the vehicle had been stolen that morning, said Mary Mulrenan, the spokeswoman for Fairfax County police.
An officer entertained the baby until Prince George's detectives arrived to transport her to her mother.
"She was very playful -- she was reaching for the officer's radio like she wanted to play with it," said Rita Lembert. "She was so cute, a very nice, nice baby. I think the pacifier kept her calm."
The attack in District Heights occurred along a busy thoroughfare lined with liquor stores and discount shops. At night, Som said, the intersection is frequented by panhandlers.
"Sometimes there are fights, but that's it," said Som, who has worked the nightshift at the gas station for eight months.
A truck driver, who identified himself as Jay Free, 40, of Upper Marlboro, said that he sometimes stops at the gas station in the early morning and that the ambiance can seem menacing.
"Sometimes I come through here, and I don't even stop," he said. "I keep going, because so many people are out here hanging around."
"They're sitting out here waiting to catch you off guard," he said.
Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.