Details of Disappearance Gabriel was abducted by his mother, Elizabeth Joanne Johnson, from Tempe, Arizona on December 18, 2009. She took him to San Antonio, Texas, driving her grandfather's white 1995 Oldsmobile Delta 88. They arrived on December 22 and stayed in two motels in the area.
Gabriel was last seen with his mother on December 27. She left San Antonio by Greyhound bus that same day, without the baby, leaving her grandfather's car behind in San Antonio.
She was supposed to appear for a custody hearing in family court in Arizona on December 28, but she never showed up and a warrant for custodial interference was issued.
Elizabeth was arrested at youth hostel in Miami Beach, Florida on December 30. Gabriel wasn't with her at the time; he has never been heard from again. Elizabeth was later indicted for custodial interference, kidnapping and child abuse.
On December 27, Gabriel's father, Logan Scott McQueary, got a series of disturbing text messages from Elizabeth. She stated he would never see Gabriel again and that she had killed him and thrown him in a trash bin. She also called him and repeated that she had killed the baby.
She later said those claims were false and she only made them up to upset McQueary. Elizabeth stated she had given Gabriel to a man and a childless woman whom she met in a San Antonio park. She considered it to be a closed adoption.
She said she spent three days with the couple, but she deliberately tried not to remember their last names or what their car looked like so she would not be able to take Gabriel back if she changed her mind. Elizabeth stated the woman's first name was Cheryl, but she didn't remember the man's name.
At the time of his disappearance, Gabriel was being considered for adoption by Tammi Peters Smith and Jack Smith, a couple who lived near the child's home. They spent a few weeks with him in December and had bonded with him.
McQueary, who is Elizabeth's ex-boyfriend, was refusing to give up his parental rights. He stated he felt the Smiths were trying to coerce him into agreeing to the adoption. Photographs of Elizabeth, McQueary and the Smiths are posted with this case summary.
Tammi and Jack are considered persons of interest in Gabriel's disappearance, as they were the last people to see him before he left Arizona. Authorities stated they thought the Smiths might be withholding information as to Gabriel's whereabouts.
The Smiths supported Elizabeth and said they believed Gabriel was safe and might be returned home if McQueary agreed to relinquish custody to them.
In February 2010, Tammi was arrested and charged with forgery, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in Gabriel's case.
According to court documents, Tammi had played a "deceptive role" in the investigation, making numerous false statements to the media and the police, as well as withholding information from investigators. She maintains her innocence.
Tammi did admit that she wrote the name of one of her cousins on a paternity document stating he, not McQueary, was Gabriel's biological father. In May 2012, Tammi was convicted of all charges.
In March 2010, three months after Gabriel's disappearance, McQueary was granted full custody of him and Elizabeth was denied visitation or any access to the child.
Ken Gamble, a private investigator hired by McQueary, believes Gabriel is alive and was given away or sold by Elizabeth to a couple in San Antonio. Gamble stated he had evidence that a third party arranged for Elizabeth to meet this couple and give Gabriel for them to adopt.
Gamble described the man and woman as being in their thirties or forties. The man was tall with short dark hair; the woman was about 5'6 tall and had long blonde hair. Gamble said he thought the couple was aware their adoption of Gabriel wasn't legal, and Gabriel is probably no longer in the San Antonio area. He may be disguised as a girl.
An adoption expert stated the Homegate Hotel, one of the San Antonio hotels where Elizabeth stayed, is known in adoption circles. Adoption agencies put birth mothers in the hotel to meet adoptive parents and complete the paperwork. In illegal or "underground" adoptions, the birth mother will usually bring the child to meet the adoptive parents in a public place.
The last known photographs of Gabriel were taken with Elizabeth's cellular phone in the Homegate Hotel. In several of them, he is seen holding a medicine bottle, possibly infant Tylenol, and appears lethargic, with his eyes are half-closed.
A babysitter hired by Elizabeth during this time, who didn't know Gabriel had been kidnapped, stated Elizabeth told her she had given Gabriel some medicine and to give him more if he became fussy.
Elizabeth reportedly confessed to Gabriel's murder a third time during a jailhouse interview with a police detective in May 2010. Her attorneys stated she was taking medication at the time of the interview and moved to have it excluded as evidence because they had not been present when it took place.
McQueary stated Elizabeth was unstable and had once ransacked his apartment and cut up his clothing. Elizabeth's grandfather believes she may suffer from bipolar disorder.
In jail, Elizabeth was disruptive, refused to eat and assaulted other inmates. She was eventually removed to the jail's psychiatric unit. At court appearances, when she was asked about Gabriel, she repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
In June 2010, she was ruled incompetent to stand trial. She spent three months in court-ordered treatment and was found competent in September.
Elizabeth was tried in October 2012. She was convicted of custodial interference and unlawful imprisonment, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the kidnapping charge. Although her lawyer argued for probation, she was sentenced to five and a quarter years in prison. She got credit for three years' time served.
Elizabeth apologized for her actions at her December 2012 sentencing and said she'd given Gabriel away because she wanted him to have a better life. She was released from prison in July 2014.
Authorities are investigating Gabriel's disappearance as a kidnapping/homicide. They stated they believe Elizabeth probably killed her son and they are considering filing murder charges against her. Gabriel remains missing and his case is unsolved.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- San Antonio Police Department
- Tempe Police Department
Updated 9 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated April 30, 2016; age-progression updated.