NEW YORK — Investigators say they sifted through hundreds of tips in their search for Charles Mozdir, but a phone call they got during CNN’s “The Hunt” with John Walsh helped them crack the case.
On Monday, eight days after the show first aired, the 32-year-old suspected sex offender died in a shootout in New York City as police closed in. [Click here for local coverage from PIX11.com]
During the show, first broadcast on July 20, a deputy U.S. marshal fielding calls got a tip about Mozdir, accused in a 2012 California child molestation case.
“I know Mozdir. He left here 10 months ago,” the caller said, according to Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Steve Jurman.
The call “really stood out,” Jurman said, “because they mentioned that he had a dog.”
The last time Mozdir had been spotted, Jurman said, his black Labrador, Lucky, was with him.
The tip was the first strong lead about his whereabouts investigators had in more than two years, but they didn’t know where he’d gone since.
“It was the newest information we had,” Jurman said. “Our case went cold in 2012. He was definitely living on cash, with a good fake ID. He was off our grid.”
That changed on Monday, when a New York police detective and two U.S. marshals entered the smoke shop in New York City where Mozdir worked.
Mozdir “fired on officers at a very close range,” New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said, and “officers returned fire.” The officers were wounded during the shootout, but are expected to recover, authorities said.
Mozdir been sought by authorities since June 2012. He had “apparently changed his appearance from earlier times,” Bratton said, declining to provide further details on what he said was an ongoing investigation.
A series of leads
Walsh said that after the episode featuring Mozdir, authorities received a tip that he was working at a restaurant in Manhattan, but the information didn’t pan out.
After CNN re-aired Mozdir’s episode Sunday night, another tip came in that resulted in an address for Mozdir, according to Walsh.
While the show aired, police warned that Mozdir was believed to be armed.
“Charles Mozdir owns a gun and is known to live off of the land,” police in Coronado, California, posted on Facebook last week.
Mozdir had a 32-caliber revolver with 20 spare rounds of ammunition in his pocket at the time of his death, the police commissioner said.
Police are canvassing the area for video, according to a New York law enforcement source.
The wounded officers, all of whom were part of a U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, were transported to Bellevue Hospital, Bratton said.
Officials said their injuries did not appear to be life-threatening and the officers are in stable condition.
It’s likely that a bullet-proof vest the New York Police Department officer was wearing saved his life, Bratton said.
“We appreciate their bravery, their strength, their decisiveness,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “and we’re going to make sure each one of them is taken care of.”
Family ‘was destroyed, terrified’
Mozdir was arrested in California in 2012 after the young son of two close friends told his parents that Mozdir had touched his private parts. Mozdir was at their house helping care for the now 7-year-old boy, who was ill with a high fever. His parents, who requested that their names not be used, immediately went to police.
“He was on the run for almost two years. And this family was destroyed, terrified that he would come back and hurt them because they had the courage to come forward and file charges against him, and now they don’t have to worry if this guy’s coming back to hurt the family or hurt their little boy,” Walsh said Monday. “And they get justice.”
After the parents’ report in 2012, investigators in Coronado, California, executed a search warrant on Mozdir’s house and found evidence of child pornography and bestiality on his cell phone and computers, according to U.S. Marshals Service deputy Brian Grimes.
Mozdir was arrested four days after the incident and booked into the San Diego County jail before posting bail the next day. The district attorney told the couple that Mozdir had been accused in another child assault case when he was babysitting a young boy, who told his mother. On June 15, 2012, Mozdir failed to appear at his arraignment.
Charges were immediately filed, and a $1 million arrest warrant was issued. Grimes said investigators believe he took all his money and fled. Mozdir indicated that he was considering going to Mexico or Japan during one of his last phone calls. His roommate told police that Mozdir had two guns and had threatened to kill himself and kill a victim’s father.
The Coronado Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service searched for Mozdir in Georgia and California, as well as the Mexican state of Baja California. On June 20, 2012, Coronado police found Mozdir’s abandoned vehicle hidden in the brush outside the coastal Georgia town of Darien. The license plate had been ripped off, and there was an extra gas tank inside. A bloodhound picked up Mozdir’s scent near U.S. Highway 17.
Walsh: ‘This is our first capture’
“The Hunt,” which premiered on CNN on July 13, aims to expose stories of ongoing criminal investigations of fugitives and expand the search internationally.
On Monday, Walsh described Mozdir’s death as a “very shocking ending.”
“But it shows how much the public cares and how much they can help,” he said.
“This is our first capture. I’m very sorry that those police officers got wounded in the line of duty,” Walsh said, “but this is one more lowlife that’s off the streets.”