The drama began when the girl's mother, Lakeesha White, 29, of Camden, told police she had stopped her new Pontiac G6 to help an elderly woman cross busy South Broadway in downtown Camden.
Jada Cordero, 7, was in the back, White said, when she pulled over about 11:30 a.m. near Market Street. As the car sat idling, a man leaped behind the wheel and drove off, White told police.
Camden police notified state police at 12:10 p.m. and an amber alert, which notifies all major broadcast outlets of the missing child, was activated.
Police shut down several blocks of South Broadway as investigators swarmed the scene. Several police dogs were brought in to sniff the area.
Minutes later, a city patrolman spotted the silver Pontiac at 34th Street and Farragut Avenue in North Camden, said police spokeswoman Teresa Sicard Archambault.
Police smashed a window to open the car trunk and searched for the missing girl.
At about the same time, other officers, who had fanned across the city looking for Jada, found her at the school near 7th and Cooper Streets.
The amber alert was canceled shortly after 1 p.m.
Sicard said investigators spoke with Jada, but declined to comment on their conversation. White, the mother, was interviewed for several hours.
Police have found no witnesses to the alleged carjacking, Sicard said.
Other people who have falsely reported crimes to police that resulted in amber alerts have been dealt harsh punishments.
David Williams, 22, of Philadelphia, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2003 for reporting that his 2-year-old child was inside his car when it was stolen in Pennsauken. Williams admitted he made up the story so police would look more urgently for his car.
Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 856-779-3838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.