A 9-year-old Tonawanda girl, who was the subject of an intense Amber Alert search starting just after midnight Sunday, was found sitting in a Tim Hortons with her father just after 3:30 a.m. Monday.
City of Tonawanda police had issued the alert for Samantha Cetola after her father, Kevin Cetola, 46, of Amherst, took her for a walk Sunday at about 7 p.m. while visiting for Father’s Day but never returned.
Police said Cetola said, “I’ll be right back,” but when it got to be midnight, the family was nervous. There was no court-ordered sanctioned visitation agreement, but rather an informal agreement between the parents, police said. Cetola would normally have Samantha on Sundays between 7 and 9 p.m.
Cetola told police he was “searching for the Lord.”
Police said Cetola picks up his daughter and they spend time together near the mother’s home because he does not have a car. Cetola was convicted of felony drunken driving in January 2012 in the City of Tonawanda.
Town of Tonawanda Police Officer Joseph Gioele, who was canvassing 24-hour businesses in the area, found Cetola and his daughter having coffee at the Tim Hortons inside the Mobil gas station at Colvin Boulevard and Highland Parkway.
Police examined the group home in Amherst where Cetola lives.
Police said items were discovered belonging to Cetola that indicated intent to harm the child and said the man has a history of assault. City of Tonawanda police said they found a makeshift shrine in his room with pictures of his family and feared that it was a “goodbye message.”
“Based on what we knew and saw at the halfway house, the level of concern jumped up,” said City of Tonawanda Police Captain Fredric Foels. “We were thinking, ‘this does not look good.’ A big sigh of relief happened at 3:31 this morning.”
Foels said this was the first Amber Alert issued in Western New York in five years.
Town of Tonawanda Police charged Cetola with endangering the welfare of a child. The pair had been walking around for eight hours on the chilly night – temperatures were in the 50s – while Samantha wore shorts and a T-shirt.
A judge ordered a forensic exam based on statements Cetola gave to police.
“He made some comments to the officers as far as his whereabouts for the last eight hours – the comments were a little concerning,” Foels said. “There was a question of competency there.”
The Amherst, Town of Tonawanda and City of Tonawanda police departments had branched out from the area of Young Street and Colvin, Cetola’s last known whereabouts, to search for the girl.
Police had a “ping” signal on Cetola’s phone, but it remained by Walter M. Kenney Field the entire evening. They later found his phone and wallet at Brighton and Eggert roads in a donation bin after he told them where he had left his materials.
“He had no answer as to why he did it,” Foels said.
Police were searching nearby woods and cemetery trails. Three ATVs were used.