The BAU profiles a child abductor who may have been keeping children for more than eight years.
The BAU's latest case brings a face familiar to J.J. into their office. The familiar face is that of Sarah Hillridge, whose son Charlie was abducted eight years ago when he was eight. Sarah, who believes Charlie is still alive, comes to see J.J. anytime the BAU work on a child abduction case, the latest abducted child being eight year old Aimee Lynch. However J.J. cannot deny that Aimee's abduction bears a striking similarity to Charlie's: the abductions took place in northeast Virginia, the parents were distracted from their own child upon hearing another mother yelling for her own missing child, and the children were abducted in an extremely public location. Upon further investigation, Garcia discovers twelve children in total, all abducted within Virginia in the last ten years, all around the same age, none of the bodies ever found. The BAU come up with a profile of unsubs who could easily keep a lot of children without seeming unusual, and what agencies would have contact with such families.
- We open at the Winter Festival in sunny Virginia, where a completely happy family looks at the animals. Something tells us the fun isn't going to last. Dad and son go off to get some chow and mom and daughter wait. Aimee complains about her knit cap being itchy so mom takes it off. Then she hears another woman calling a child's name. Mom looks around her. When she turns back to her own daughter, Aimee is gone. Cut to Jennifer, who briefs the team. "The good news is that we're barely into the second hour," she ways. Derek warns that they probably only have 22 hours left -- if Aimee is to be found alive.
Later, a woman named Sarah Hillridge, who has been hitting the bottle, enters the office. "Whoever took Aimee Lynch took my son, too," she says. "This little girl was eight -- just like Charlie." Jennifer dismisses Sarah as she apparently makes such a claim every time a child goes missing. This time, however, something is different. Barbara explains that a woman yelling for her child distracted her -- giving the unsub time to take her daughter. Sarah has been telling a similar story for years. Could the "mother" be a ruse? "If it's the same people, they've been doing this for close to a decade," Emily says.
Cut to a creepy house where Aimee sits on a bed in a darkened room. She notices a light spot in the wallpaper and finds a hole through which she can see the next room. A boy appears and tries to talk to her. A super-creepy woman pulls him away from the hole. He tells her to leave the new girl alone and she give him a terrible beating. We see her later, with him in a cardboard box. She loads the box into something that looks like an oven. Oh. My. God. She turns a couple of knobs and sets the box on fire. It's a crematorium. Worse: there appear to be at least two more kids in the house. Maybe more. And if what Sarah Hillridge says is true, there have been other kids who've suffered the same fate as the young man who was just cremated. Aimee, meanwhile, begs for her mommy -- and is comforted by an older boy who calls himself David (could it be the Hillridge boy?). David then takes a Polaroid photo of Aimee.
Jennifer, meanwhile, goes over to Sarah's house and finds Charlie's room EXACTLY the way it was the day he disappeared. Even the bed is unmade. The woman is also heavy into another bottle of booze. "I think the same thing you do," Jennifer says. "I think the same people who took Aimee, took Charlie." Sarah is grateful. JJ says that the first thing that Sarah needs to do to help them find the kids is to stop drinking. Sarah says she can do that. Back at headquarters, Garcia is finding a number of missing children over the past 10 years. Some of the bodies were never found. Hotch and Emily visit the current crime scene and reenact the kidnapping. They quickly figure out that a driver would also be needed. "It took three unsubs to pull this off," he says. Later, Sarah tells the team that she saw her son just three ago -- and that was what made her husband leave her. After five years, he'd moved on. "This was a teenage Charlie crossing the street," she says. "I know I saw him!" Now, the team is inclined to believe her.
Sarah says that she and some of the other parents on Garcia's list had a support group for a while. The group broke up because, like Sarah's husband, the other parents had moved on. The team then calls in all the parents of the long-missing kids. One pair says they "used to be" friends with Sarah but now the husband says he think that she's crazy. They tell their account of how their son, Stephen, disappeared. It's just like how Charlie and Aimee were taken.
The team is ready with a profile. "We don't believe she's a mother," Emily says. They also believe that the woman is the dominant one on the team. Rossi notes that, if the previously abducted children are helping in some way, they're either being threatened or have Stockholm Syndrome. Hotch suggests focusing on homes that social services have visited. "It's likely these unsubs have been questioned before," he says. Barbara, meanwhile, recognizes a sketch of Charlie. The teen was apparently at the Winter Fair when Aimee disappeared. "He's as bad as the rest of them!" Barbara yells. Sarah is shaken. JJ tells her that if Charlie did help, he was only doing what he had to for the sake of survival. Barbara speaks to Sarah later, sort of apologizing once she realizes that Charlie really didn't have any choice.
Garcia then returns with a list of parents visited by social services. The list is long, so the team immediately starts knocking on doors. After a few fruitless visits, Emily and Derek arrive at the home of a man the audience knows to be one of the unsubs. He claims to have multiple children, but the premises are eerily silent. "My wife took them out," Roger says. Deep in the basement, Anita holds her hand over Aimee's mouth. "If you make a sound, I'll kill your mommy," she whispers. Then she gives Aimee a shot of something with a syringe. Emily, meanwhile, spots a framed "family" photo -- and one of the children looks suspiciously like the sketch of Charlie. Emily excuses herself and calls Hotch: bring in the dogs and the S.W.A.T. team.
It's all a little too late, though. Anita uses a secret door out of the basement to escape around back. She loads Charlie/David, an older girl and a drugged Aimee into the back of a hearse and drives off. The team doesn't know it, yet, though -- and goes downstairs to discover a secret door leading to a series of dingy rooms. Jennifer quickly discovers Charlie's Polaroids. "He probably took these pictures -- for proof," she says. So Charlie/David might not be so far gone, after all. Garcia then calls with good/bad news: a search on Anita reveals that her family owns a funeral home not too far away. They have a crematorium," Reid notes. Uh oh.
Cut to the funeral home, where Anita orders Charlie to put Aimee into one of the cardboard boxes -- to be burned. Charlie obeys but the older girl freaks out, saying "No, no, no" over and over. Anita tells her to be quiet and approaches her menacingly. Charlie reaches into Anita's purse ... and pulls out a revolver. He SHOOTS -- and Anita falls dead to the floor. "She can't hurt us no more," whispers the older girl. Just then, the door flies open and Emily and Derek appear. It's all over. The kids are safe, though we strongly suspect they're going to need years of counseling. Back at the creepy house, Roger has hung himself in the bathroom. Hotch discovers the body -- and is disappointed, but not terribly surprised.
Case closed, but not the episode. Sarah's ex-husband show up and apologizes for doubting her claim at having seen Charlie. They are reunited with their son. The broken family embraces, crying tears of joy. Aimee and her parents also enjoy a tearful reunion. Stephen's hopeful parents wait in vain for their son, clutching a picture of him. Charlie approaches them and says that Stephen was like a brother to him and that he died trying to protect the little girl. It's heartbreaking for Stephen's parents to realize that he was alive just yesterday.