FORT WORTH, Texas - The man accused of kidnapping an 8-year-old Fort Worth girl had his first appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon.
Police said 51-year-old Michael Webb grabbed a girl Saturday afternoon. Officers caught him hours later in a Forest Hill hotel room with the child.
The FBI took Webb into custody Tuesday morning. He was shackled and handcuffed when he appeared in court.
U.S. Judge Jeffrey Cureton quickly agreed with the government’s motion to hold him in federal custody until his next court hearing on June 4 because he is considered a danger to the community and a flight risk.
It’s not yet clear why it’s a federal case. The court documents are still sealed.
Benson Varghese is a federal defense attorney not associated with the case. He offered some perspective on why Webb's case may have landed in federal court.
"In this case, it could be as simple as a person getting on the internet, looking for a hotel. Anything that brought their activity into federal jurisdiction would give the federal government the power to prosecute,” he said. “There's also the fact that in a state system, that case is going to be potentially eligible for parole. For instance, on aggravated kidnapping, you're going to be eligible for parole at half time. As a federal case, there is no parole and any good time you could get is minimal."
Varghese also pointed out that federal prosecutors are trained differently and have access to more resources.
In the brazen kidnapping, police said Webb snatched the 8-year-old girl from the clutches of her frantic mother while the two were out for a walk in their Fort Worth Ryan Place neighborhood. Home surveillance cameras captured the mother’s plea for help and Webb speeding away with the girl in his car.
Tips from members of the community led officers to the Forest Hill hotel room where they found and rescued the girl eight hours later.
The Fort Worth Police Department said it did issue an Amber Alert in the case but it was not widely publicized. The department is now apologizing for that.
Police said they had an active crime scene that night with lots of people looking for the girl. They successfully sent a notification of the alert via email to the Department of Public Safety in Austin. DPS then notified the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children and other agencies.
But what police at the scene didn’t have was a fax machine that worked. As a result, the notification that was supposed to be sent out to specific local radio stations was never sent.
Amber Alert guidelines require notifications to be faxed to radio stations. When the stations get the fax, they broadcast the alert over the Emergency Alert System.
Since that wasn’t done, there were a lot of people who weren’t aware of the Amber Alert. Others only saw it on social media.
Fort Worth PD plans to review its procedures on Amber Alerts. In the meantime, police on scene will start emailing Amber Alert notifications to dispatch. Dispatch officers will then send out the fax.
Mayor Betsy Price said she’ll also be looking at whether Amber Alert guidelines need to be updated.