ABERDEEN, Md. — The curious circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and then release of Cal Ripken Jr.’s 74-year-old mother are all the talk of her community outside Baltimore, where such crime doesn’t happen and where her neighbors know the matriarch of the famous baseball family as “just Vi.”
Vi Ripken was found bound but unharmed in her car Wednesday morning, a day after being abducted at gunpoint at her house, blindfolded and driven around by her kidnapper, police said. He left her in her silver Lincoln Continental near her house in Aberdeen. She was tied up, but unharmed.
She described him as a tall, thin white man with glasses wearing camouflage clothing, but police had few other details and didn’t give a motive Thursday, though they did release photos of the suspect.
Ripken told a neighbor that her kidnapper didn’t seem to know her son is the Hall of Fame infielder with the nickname “Iron Man” for playing in 2,632 consecutive games during his 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles.
Investigators said the kidnapping was peculiar, especially since there was no ransom demand. It was also unclear whether the abductor, who has not been found, has any ties to the Ripken family.
“What makes this more unusual is that we’re not sure whether this was a (classic) kidnapping, per se, or what it was — which is part of what the investigation is,” said Rich Wolf, an FBI spokesman.
Police spokesman Lt. Fred Budnick could not explain how the man could have driven back into the neighborhood to drop off Ripken in her car at the same time officers were already in the area investigating.
“I think you have to remember we weren’t sure what we were dealing with,” Budnick said. “We were thinking we had a crime scene that we were looking at, and we had officers in that area, but I don’t think it was that strange that he was able to get in there.”
Wolf said he expected authorities to check the car for forensic evidence, seek out video surveillance, interview neighbors and determine whether any of Ripken’s money was taken.
“It’s just an unusual situation that we’re running into with this,” Wolf said.
Police released photos of the suspect but refused to say where they were taken. They appear to be frames from surveillance video at a store.
Police describe the suspect as a white man about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighing 180 pounds, with short brown hair and glasses. A reward of up to $2,000 is available for tips that lead to a conviction.
“It’s a very quiet neighborhood and we all thought we were safe here. I walk every day with my dog and I don’t feel the least bit threatened but now it makes you wonder,” said neighbor Ruth Law.
Law said the case had brought a horde of media to the normally quiet community about 30 miles northeast of Baltimore. All are seeking answers to the same questions she and her neighbors have.
“A lot could have happened while he had her,” Law said, saying her neighbor, whom she described as a dear friend, was very fortunate to be returned unharmed.
Aberdeen City Manager Douglas Miller said the abduction has everyone wondering what happened.
“It’s not an understatement. It has been the talk of the town. It’s actually the talk of the whole county,” Miller said.
Law said she didn’t believe the abduction was random.
“Why would he have picked her out of all the houses around here why would he have picked that house?” Law said.
On Wednesday, neighbor Gus Kowalewski said he spoke with Vi Ripken and she told him the gunman said he wouldn’t hurt her. He also lit her cigarettes for her and they stopped for food, he said.
The man was going to put tape over her eyes, but when Ripken told him she was claustrophobic, he chose a blindfold and she could see out of the sides, Kowalewski said.
Ripken Jr. retired from baseball in 2001 and is the chairman and founder of Ripken Baseball Inc., which he runs along with his brother, Bill, who also played in the majors. The two were managed for a time on the Orioles by their father and Vi’s husband, Cal Ripken Sr., who died in 1999.
Vi Ripken is founding chairwoman of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which, according to its website, helps to build character for disadvantaged young people. Besides Cal and Bill, she has another son and a daughter.
The Ripken family has not commented on the investigation, except to say that it had been a “trying time” for the family and that they were relieved their mother was home safely.
Law said Vi Ripken is loved in the small town of about 15,000 where she has remained despite her son’s fame.
“She’s just Vi and she wants to be treated that way,” Law said.