By Mary Frost, Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Tara Anne McDonald caused panic in 2002
An unhinged baby-kidnapper who created a panic among parents in Brooklyn Heights almost a dozen years ago was arrested on Friday for attempting to snatch another baby, this time in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
Tara Anne McDonald, 46, was arrested for allegedly attempting to kidnap an 8-month-old boy on Thursday at roughly 3:45 p.m., on Eighth Avenue near 17th Street. According to news reports, a UPS employee, himself a dad, intervened in the kidnapping attempt.
NYPD spokesperson Detective James Duffy told the Brooklyn Eagle that McDonald tried to snatch the baby as he was being pushed in a stroller by his nanny. McDonald fled south along Eighth Avenue. The NYPD issued a bulletin with her photo.
Following her arrest on Friday, McDonald was taken to Bellevue Hospital where she is currently a prisoner “in the custody of New York State,” Det. Duffy said.
Ms. McDonald has roughly 15 prior arrests, for crimes that she committed in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau County and Florida, and possibly other locations. According to published reports, at least seven of these arrests involve kidnapping attempts.
She was arrested in 1997 in the 6th Precinct in Manhattan on kidnapping charges, said Det. Duffy, and reportedly spent more than a year in prison for that attempt. McDonald, who has been diagnosed as being mentally ill, has spent several years in and out of mental hospitals and prisons.
In 2002, McDonald targeted babies in Brooklyn Heights. The Brooklyn Eagle (and its sister publication, theBrooklyn Heights Press) broke the story after she attempted to grab a child from a stroller near Packer Collegiate on Joralemon Street and concerned parents spread the word.
McDonald apparently believed the babies were being mistreated or actually belonged to her, telling startled parents or nannies, “Give me my baby!”
Nannies in the Heights, meeting at playgrounds and the library, discovered that other caregivers had been approached aggressively by the same woman. McDonald would follow nannies pushing strollers along sidewalks or into stores and attempt to touch and pick up the babies, they said.
After McDonald made several more tries, the panic level rose and the 84th Precinct put on extra patrols and warned parents to be alert.
McDonald, who was shabbily dressed and appeared to be homeless, was spotted several times in the neighborhood, including by this reporter, but eluded capture until July 17, 2002, when she attempted to grab the 8-month-old child of a Brooklyn assistant district attorney from a stroller on Montague Street near Clinton Street. The baby’s mother wrested the stroller away from McDonald and contacted police.
Officers from the 84th Precinct arrested her near Montague Street later that same day. She was charged with attempted kidnapping, stalking and endangering the welfare of a child.
At a later hearing, police said that she had been taken to Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center for psychiatric evaluation on July 4, but was released. Woodhull said at that time that they had no record of McDonald being there.
The Heights community was divided on what should become of McDonald, with some pushing for psychiatric treatment and others urging jail time.
McDonald’s case was heard before Judge Matthew D’Emic at Brooklyn’s then-new Mental Health Court. She was initially found to be unfit for trial and transferred to a psychiatric facility, then spent several years in prison before a bed was found at a different psychiatric facility.
McDonald said she lived Daytona Beach, Florida, though she reportedly grew up on Long Island. After her name became publicized across the country on network television, another Daytona Beach resident, also named Tara Anne McDonald, became the butt of teasing comments at the lounge in Daytona where she worked..
She told the Eagle at that time that her mother had called her after hearing her name on TV. “It wasn’t me!” she declared.
Not long after McDonald was arrested, several other threatening incidents were reported in the Heights, including an attempt by a man in August to kidnap a child from Pierrepont Playground. In September of 2002, a man was arrested at Harry Chapin Playground, in the north Heights, after he tried to talk a young boy into going home with him.
A safety forum held in the auditorium of Plymouth Church in October, led by 84th Precinct (then) Inspector Christopher Rising, was packed. Child ID/ fingerprinting kits were handed out in parks and playgrounds. The children fingerprinted during the scare are now in high school or college.