Police and the FBI are scouring the northern Baltimore suburbs for a gunman who they said abducted the 74-year-old mother of Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., bound her hands and drove her around in her silver Lincoln Town Car for nearly 24 hours.
Violet Ripken was found Wednesday morning, unharmed and sitting in her vehicle with her hands still tied, according to police. They said the gunman abandoned the car near her home in Aberdeen, Md., northeast of Baltimore.
Authorities said a motive remains as mysterious as the man they are seeking. They said it’s unclear whether the gunman knew the woman he snatched from her garage was the mother of the iconic infielder, whose family is revered in Maryland and in the baseball world.
“Right now, we can’t speak of what the motive is,” Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert said at a news conference, adding that they know of no ransom demands. “We are looking at every witness, at every clue. . . . We don’t know what, if any, relationship there was between this individual and the Ripken family.”
The Ripken homestead in the small town off Interstate 95 is well known, and the family remains a fixture there. Cal’s younger brother Billy also played for the Orioles, and for a time their father, Cal Ripken Sr., managed both sons at the same time.
Cal Jr. is known as the “Iron Man” for playing in 2,632 consecutive games, shattering a mark set by Lou Gehrig that was long thought to be unbreakable. He broke the record by playing in his 2,131st game in 1995, helping restore credibility to the sport a year after a strike devastated fans throughout the country.
Violet Ripken, known as “Vi,” remains active in the community, running a foundation named after her husband that helps disadvantaged youths through baseball and softball programs. The family’s showpiece, 6,000-seat Ripken Stadium, is home to the Aberdeen IronBirds, an Orioles minor league affiliate.
The Ripken family issued a brief statement Wednesday calling the past two days a “trying time” but also noting, “We are grateful and relieved that mom is back with us, safe and healthy.”
Police from the 40-member force in Aberdeen are taking the lead in the investigation, which also includes state and Baltimore County police and the FBI.
Authorities could offer only a scant description of the gunman: a tall, thin white male in his late 30s to early 40s who was last seen wearing a light-colored shirt, camouflage pants and glasses.
Police declined to release many details, including whether the gunman and Ripken talked and whether he stole her money and credit cards, which could be traced if they are used. Trabert said the gunman drove Ripken’s car “throughout central Maryland.”
Lt. Fred Budnick, an Aberdeen police spokesman, said Ripken was abducted from her garage between 7 and 8 a.m. Tuesday. Police said there was no indication she was missing until 8:30 that night, when a woman who lives on Ebenezer Road in Baltimore County spotted a car parked on her property.
She went out to investigate, Budnick said, and saw a woman in the back. The lieutenant said she did not recognize the person as Ripken but thought the situation odd enough that she jotted down the license plate number and dialed 911 as the driver sped off.
Baltimore County police traced the plate to Vi Ripken, checked at her home, contacted family members and concluded she was missing. Police issued a public plea for help locating Ripken at 5:30 a.m. She was found in her car about 45 minutes later.
“Detectives worked throughout the night to locate Ms. Ripken based on the information provided,” Trabert said.
A next-door neighbor told the Associated Press he spoke with Vi Ripken Wednesday morning and she told him that although the gunman tied her hands and put a blindfold on her, the gunman said he wouldn’t hurt her.
“He lit cigarettes for her, they stopped for food,” Gus 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 had planned to put tape over her eyes, but didn’t after she told him she was claustrophobic.