LAWRENCEVILLE -- Ask his mother, and Christopher Ray was an integral part of the Taddeo boys' life, the family he's in jail for allegedly interfering with.
Ray met the three Taddeo brothers and their mother, Gabriella, in 2007, when he was asked by a friend to do some mechanical work on their car. Ray recognized how devoid the boys were of a father figure, and was soon driving them to school and family outings, spending holidays at their home and regularly attending family dinners, Ray's mother said Thursday.
Ray, 29, made his first appearance in Gwinnett Magistrate Court on felony kidnapping charges Thursday. He's accused of taking the youngest brother, Mario, 10, and hiding him at his Gainesville home, setting off a police hunt that spanned two counties and included a helicopter, search dogs and swarms of police.
Ray's mother, Tammy Ray, believes her son's actions were his way of helping the boy out of recent family turmoil. She concedes he erred in taking the boy without permission, but to charge him with an offense as serious as kidnapping is "wrong" and "far-fetched," she contends.
"He loves those children and would protect them in every way any parent would," Tammy Ray wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Post. "My son is only guilty of the love and care he has given to this family."
Fighting amongst the boys had grown severe enough to attract the attention of Division of Family and Children Services officials. All three boys -- ages 10, 12 and 16 -- will remain in DFCS custody until that investigation is concluded, a juvenile judge ruled earlier this week.
Tammy Ray said her son accompanied the family to a DFCS custody hearing on Aug. 23 and has continually helped keep them from state custody since 2007.
The boys' mother, Gabriella Taddeo, did not return calls from a reporter this week. Police said the boys' father left Georgia for his native Ecuador years ago and hasn't been involved with the family since.
The bizarre case unfolded Monday evening, after Mario Taddeo had come home from Alcova Elementary School, went to visit a friend and disappeared. Police found him about 11 a.m. the next day, freely walking around Ray's Gainesville porch.
Ray's arrest warrant alleges he advised Mario to hide under a bed when Hall County authorities searched it.
Ray was first arrested on charges of misdemeanor obstruction of law enforcement in Hall County after the boy was recovered. Further charges are possible in that investigation, authorities have said.
Ray will likely remain jailed for at least another week in Gwinnett. His probable cause hearing, where a judge will determine if the charge is appropriate, is scheduled Sept. 10.
A conviction on kidnapping charges could result in a prison sentence of at least 25 years because the alleged victim is under age 14, according to Georgia code.