Photo by Michael Buckelew
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Charges against the Hall County man accused of kidnapping 10-year-old Mario Taddeo were bound over to Gwinnett County Superior Court on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Department Family and Children Services has deprived Taddeo's mother of all three of her children, officials said.
Christopher Ray, 29, was a family friend of the Taddeos, often caring for Mario and his older brothers in the absence of their mother. Mario's disappearance on the afternoon of Aug. 30 spurred a two-county search for the youngster before Gwinnett and Hall County police ultimately discovered him hiding in the attic of Ray's Gainesville home.
Ray was charged in Hall County for obstruction and -- despite investigators' admission that Mario left with him willingly -- faces a felony kidnapping charge in Gwinnett.
That charge was bound over Wednesday, with more details surfacing about the events leading up to last month's confusion.
Ray had reportedly exchanged several text messages with Mario's mother, Gabriella Tadeo, earlier that day, asking her to see the boys despite what he and Taddeo both described as a no-contact order from DFCS.
"I'm just so lonely," one text from a couple hours prior to Mario's disappearance reportedly read.
Wednesday's probable cause hearing also revealed another text message, this one allegedly saying Ray and Mario had taken drugs together.
According to Gwinnett County's lead investigator Det. G. Leak, a search of Ray's cell phone also discovered a series of texts between Ray and another man asking if he wanted any "roxies" -- the slang term for an instant-release version of the prescription painkiller oxycodone.
One message back from Ray said, "I've taken six, Mario has taken one," Leak said.
DFCS was already investigating Gabriella Taddeo prior to last month's incident, Leak testified Wednesday. She was not the one to place the 911 call after Mario disappeared.
DFCS has since placed Mario and his two brothers, ages 12 and 14, into foster care.
"From my understanding, it was due to a number of things, including the actions of Mr. Ray and some things that happened with Ms. Taddeo," Leak said.
Ray had befriended the family "four or five years ago," taking on the role of father figure for the boys, his attorney, Wayne Lancaster, said Wednesday. He had frequently watched them until their mother came home, and even had them stay with him for entire summers before, Lancaster said.
"He has been the one positive thing in those three kids' life when the mother has not been," Ray's mother, Tammy Ray, recently wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Post. "He has supported those kids emotionally and financially. He had taken on the role of dad to those kids."
Ray was reportedly even on a list enabling him to check Mario out from school at Alcovy Elementary. When Mario left a friend's house with Ray that day, it was at his own request, Leak said.
"(Mario) did say he contacted Mr. Ray and Mr. Ray came and picked him up (that day)," he said. "Pretty much everything else (answered during investigators' interview of Mario) was an 'I don't know.'"
Given the nature of the relationship, Lancaster argued unsuccessfully Wednesday for a lessening of charges against his client.
"Taking the evidence as a whole, this is more of, at most, an interference of custody as opposed to a kidnapping," Lancaster said. "This child was not in harm, was not taken by force, and was not taken against his will."
"It was probably more of the mother trying to cover some of her actions," he added.
Ray, who did not take the stand Wednesday, is scheduled for a bond hearing on Sept. 30.