Kidnapped girl found alive and well after seven years

A girl who was snatched as a baby seven years ago from a Los Angeles restaurant has been found, police said. She has been living with a couple in the state of Arizona.

Amber Nicklas, who turns eight this month, was abducted in 2003 and found on Wednesday night in a house in north Phoenix that also served as premises for a palm-reading business. The girl was emotional after being taken from the home but appeared in good health, police said. Investigators discovered that she was kept out of school and could not read. She was able to speak Romanian as well as English.

Amber remained in protective custody in Los Angeles and it was not clear if she would be reunited with her foster parents. Authorities have not filed any charges but are investigating. "This girl was taken away from the only parents and family that she knows," said Phoenix police Sgt Trent Crump. "It was very traumatic for her."

Police believe the couple were trying to hide Amber, noting that they changed the girl's name and birth date and she was found under a pile of clothes when authorities searched the home. "The child seemed well-cared-for, well-nourished, very happy," said Cpt Patrick Maxwell of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "Apart from being kept out of school she lived a semi-normal life. She wasn't locked in a bedroom. She called these people mum and dad."

On 21 September 2003, Amber, then a year old, was abducted from her foster parents by three young aunts at a suburban Los Angeles children's restaurant. Two aunts were sent to a juvenile offenders' camp for the kidnapping. It is not clear how Amber was sent to Phoenix. She is in the care of LA's Children and Family Services.