At the news conference on the 6th floor of the B&O Warehouse, Cal Ripken used the word that's been on the minds or lips of everyone around here since his mother's abduction: "Bizarre."
Ripken immediately added, in deference to the police officials sitting in front of him Friday morning, that he didn't have any law enforcement experience, so he couldn't say what made Vi Ripken's kidnapping so bizarre. But you didn't have to be a criminologist to agree with his word choice.
Someone with a gun kidnaps the 74-year-old mother of baseball's Iron Man from her home in Aberdeen, drives her around the Beltway and Central Maryland in her own car for a day, then drops her off, unharmed physically, within about 100 yards of her house. No ransom demand.
If you're into categorizing things, or marking the life of your community by the great and awful things that happen here, it's hard to know where to place a story like this. It's a crime, of course, and an elderly woman was no doubt traumatized. (Her son used that word, too.)
But it seems to have been a crime without conclusion — a wise guy's failed attempt at some grand-scale scheme, or maybe a loser's simple plan dashed by second thoughts.
Like something out of a Coen Brothers film, but interrupted before it turned dark.
Cal Ripken's mom was kidnapped. "We don't know why," her son said.
So, until the police catch the guy who did this, and until he tells the story — or until we hear more from Vi Ripken — we can only speculate about what happened.
It's hard to believe this was random, that the kidnapper didn't know his victim was the mother of a wealthy Hall of Famer who played for the Orioles. Assuming that he did, it's natural to ask the million-dollar question: Did the abductor intend to hold Vi Ripken for ransom, then chicken out?
Assuming he didn't know who Vi Ripken was, did he just experience pangs of guilt about tying up a senior citizen and driving her around for several hours? Was he looking for money, but then decided that having his photograph taken at an ATM with Maryland's second-most-famous mother (next to Debbie Phelps) wouldn't be prudent?
Bizarre. Good word for this.
Cal Ripken said he was thankful that his mother had been treated "civilly" and had been "checked on quite a bit." So I guess that's consolation: Some creep or dope or drug addict — we don't know which yet — took pity on the white-haired grandmother he'd kidnapped. I'm sure, down the road, after he's apprehended and convicted, such kindness will be mentioned in the pre-sentence report.
My tone is a lot harsher and sarcastic than Iron Man's was Friday morning, when he took a seat alone behind some microphones at the warehouse and, in the most sober tones, answered a few questions: What was the night of the kidnapping like for him? What was the moment of reunion with his mother like? Had he and his siblings ever talked to Vi Ripken about moving from her house?
Everyone with an elderly parent who lives alone faces that last question at some point. You might not worry about them being kidnapped, but you worry about other things, all of them bad. At the same time, you want them to be happy — and many of them are happiest living in their home for as long as possible.
"My mother is a very strong and independent person," Cal Ripken said. "She's living in the house we all grew up in. … You want to protect her the way she protected us when we were kids."
That was one of the moments in the press conference when the Iron Man appeared to tear up.
Vi Ripken — "the rock of our family," her son called her — lives by herself on a secluded street in Harford County. Some 12 hours went by before she was reported missing. That sounds like a lot of time, but not in this modern life, with busy baby boomers doing the mad scramble every day, outside of their parents' orbit.
Unless you or your siblings are in the habit of calling every hour or two, a healthy and active mom easily could go missing for half a day before you'd notice.
Once he found out, Cal Ripken got in his car and drove around looking for his mother. But he couldn't find her. It was a horrible night, he said, and the Ripkens prepared for the worst. Vi Ripken was left in her car near her home early the next morning. She was not injured, at least not physically.
Her son called Vi Ripken tough, and he called her strong. But, he said, returning to "life the way she knew it" after this bizarre and traumatic experience would be a challenge, and that's the crime of it.
"You can't change your whole life and be fearful," Cal Ripken said. "But our awareness has been heightened. I know mom thinks of things very differently now."