Homeless woman accused of stealing Queens teen's custom wheelchair

JACKSON HEIGHTS, Queens (WABC) -- A homeless woman has been arrested, accused of targeting a disabled teenager in Queens on Christmas night.

Eighteen-year-old Michelle Molina, who suffers from Rett Syndrome and is non-verbal, depends on her $5,000 custom wheelchair to get around.

Each night, her mother would chain the heavy wheelchair to a fence outside their Jackson Heights apartment. But when they woke up the day after Christmas, they realized someone had cut the chain and stolen the chair.

The wheelchair was recovered and returned to Michelle by NYPD officers from the 115th Precinct. "She says she is very thankful again for the return of the chair," said Michelle's mother Antonia Martinez, who accepted the chair for her daughter and thanked the officers who worked to find it with some diligent police work.

"We did an extensive video canvass in the area and we were able to retrieve video that the detectives later used to identify the chair," said NYPD Officer Bryan Leibold.

With the short clip of video, officers then went to work looking for suspects and received a valuable tip.

"We did a followup with that," said Detective Michael Fischer. "There were many people involved with this, other detectives, and they went to the scene and were able to identify the wheelchair."

On Wednesday, police announced that 34-year-old Minera Martinez was arrested and charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. Most importantly, police were able to bring the chair back to Michelle.

"She relies on it on a daily basis," said NYPD Officer Tyler Scala. "So we wanted to get this done, wanted to get the investigation done as quickly as possible and provide closure for this family and reunite her with the wheelchair."

The chair is so important to Michelle because she has scoliosis. It keeps her straight and head supported. Her family says she doesn't understand why anyone would take it.

"This is one of those things where it's like, wow!," said commanding officer Carlos Ortiz. "They actually took a wheelchair from the side of the house that we felt that we needed to get on top of this."

Molina had been using a borrowed wheelchair since the theft, but her family says it doesn't meet her needs.

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