Teacher Charged With Kidnapping Girl With Autism Says She Was Just Trying To Help Her Get Home

Amy Martz
Fox 17

A Utah teacher accused of kidnapping a child with autism is speaking out, and she insists that simply wasn't the case. Amy Martz of West Jordan said she was just trying to help get the girl safely home from school in early September, and her lawyer agreed the entire incident has been blown out of proportion. Martz was charged November 18 with child kidnapping, a first-degree felony. If she's found guilty, the teacher could face up to 15 years in prison. 

  • The teacher, 49, is accused of kidnapping the girl September 4.

    The 5-year-old girl is “autistic and mostly nonverbal,” and Martz spotted her as she was leaving Fox Hollow Elementary School, according to the Desert News. In a prepared statement, Martz, who teaches sixth grade at the school, claimed the girl was outside her classroom “sobbing uncontrollably” at the end of the school day.

    There had been a water main break on campus that day, and the student, who has not been identified publicly, seemed upset she couldn't fill up her water bottle before walking home.

    It was then that Martz stepped in to try to help the girl find her way home, she claimed. She took the girl by the hand and walked her past the bus stop and the parent pickup location twice, asking the girl if this was where she was supposed to go. But the student allegedly shook her head "no" both times.

    Martz eventually entered the crosswalk with the 5-year-old, and the two kept going.

    “At each fork in the road I stopped and said, ‘Which way home?’ She would point confidently and said, ‘This way home,” Martz recalled.

    But after a while, Martz realized that “this cute girl did not know where she was going.”

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  • The teacher added that because she had only thought she would be gone for a few minutes, she didn't have her phone on her to call for help.

    She took the girl to the home of a resident, who allowed her to use the phone. Eventually, another teacher picked up the pair and returned them both to school. By then, they had been gone for 40 minutes, Fox 17 reported.

    When the girl returned, her parents were worried. Martz told reporters that she tried to explain what had happened, but she seemed to be trouble communicating.

    “At the end, the dad asked, ‘So you just took her?’ ‘No,’ I said, and I repeated the story again. I felt that language may have been a barrier to understanding my good intentions and the safety I had provided,” she explained, adding that although the girl understood English, her parents speak Spanish. She noted that it was only later that she learned the young girl girl has autism.

    Martz claimed she received a formal reprimanding from the school, and subsequently asked for another meeting with the girl's parents -- this time with an interpreter present -- but she was denied.

  • Martz later learned there was a $25,000 warrant out for her arrest -- but only discovered that after a news station reached out for comment.

    Soon after, she turned herself into authorities and was booked into Salt Lake County Jail, but she posted bail shortly after. 

    For now, however, Martz is maintaining her innocence.

    “I did not kidnap a child," she said. "I followed a clearly distraught child as she left the school grounds. I felt she was not safe traveling alone."

    Martz's lawyer, Cara Tangaro, said that she feels strongly the case has been blown out of proportion. 

    “The D.A.’s office has taken what was a very innocent interaction and turned it into a very serious crime,” Tangaro said, adding that although the facts are the same in both the defense's argument and the prosecution's, the final verdict will most likely come down to intent.

  • In addition to her teaching degree, Martz is also a Utah board certified lawyer who specialized in education law.

    For 13 years, she served as a principal in the Granite School District and last year ran for office to represent the 42nd District in the Utah House of Representatives. She also has four adopted children, one of whom has autism.

    “My whole life has been about serving and helping children," Martz read from her two-and-a-half page statement. "I’m a rule follower. I stay safely on the side of policy and law.

    "It’s been my job for 24 years as a teacher, as a principal, as a lawyer to children," she continued. "I take responsibility and regret that the child’s parents were frightened. I was only keeping her safe."

    Martz added that at the time she felt it was her "duty" as a school employee to make sure the girl got home safely.

    “It’s a sad commentary on our society when educators who responsibly help children are disciplined and charged with crimes," she continued. "I plead with the prosecutor to drop the charges against me.”

    Tangaro agreed with that request, and she added that although Martz perhaps should have just taken the girl to the principal's office, she doesn't believe the penalties for Martz's actions should be so extreme.

    "Could things in hindsight been maybe have been done differently?" she asked. "Maybe. But does it rise to the level of criminal culpability? Our answer is we don’t think so."