"I'm glad God brought me to see it," Jessica's mother, Debra Gutierrez, said. "I prayed he would bring me through it, and we've waited for this a long time."
Trigger Warning: This story discusses the abduction and murder of a minor that may be disturbing to readers.
In 1986, 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez was snatched from her bed in the early morning hours, according to PEOPLE.
It has been over 35 years since the incident and on January 6, 2022, 61-year-old Thomas McDowell was charged with murder of the girl who is still missing and presumed to be dead. Along with the murder charges, McDowell is also facing charges of kidnapping and first-degree burglary when he is extradited from his home in North Carolina to South Carolina where the kidnapping occurred.
Authorities previously revealed that someone had abducted Jessica after breaking into her family’s home in Lexington, South Carolina, through a window on June 6, 1986, per New York Post.
Thomas McDowell, 61, a North Carolina man has been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and killing 4-year-old Jessica Gutierrez >> https://t.co/3oHl4TBHtV— wave3news (@wave3news) January 10, 2022
At the time, Jessica’s 6-year-old sister told their mother that the “man in the magic hat” had taken the younger girl. Officials searched far and wide for the missing girl for over three decades, but in vain.
But as luck had it, authorities said they finally got a break after they were joined by the FBI on the probe last September, and "took a fresh look" at the case. Since then, investigators spent months reviewing over 3,500 case files and interviewing more than 125 people.
"Because of the work we did, coming together as a team, we were able to sort and connect more pieces of the puzzle about what happened to Jessica all those years ago," Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said in a statement.
Authorities said McDowell lived in Lexington County in 1986, and though they did not disclose what eventually led them to McDowell, or what evidence allegedly tied him to the girl’s case, an arrest warrant obtained by PEOPLE revealed that a fingerprint found was later identified as belonging to McDowell.
Here’s a still shot of the arrest today in @WakeForest_NC of Thomas McDowell. A big day for the family of this 4 year old and for @LCSD_News #abc11 pic.twitter.com/SO5lCP1Nmy— Josh Chapin (@JoshChapinABC11) January 7, 2022
"McDowell was later identified through a photo lineup and made statements to other sources that he had kidnapped the victim and killed her," the arrest warrant states. He was taken into custody at his home about 20 miles north of Raleigh.
He is now being held on no bond at the Wake County Detention Center in Raleigh until he is extradited back to South Carolina. It is unclear if he has an attorney representing him.
Jessica's mom is now filled with emotions over the arrest. "I'm glad God brought me to see it," Jessica's mother, Debra Gutierrez, said. "I prayed he would bring me through it, and we've waited for this a long time."
Cover Image Source: YouTube | ABC11 (Wake Forest man arrested in 35-year-old South Carolina kidnapping, murder of 4-year-old girl)