A SEPTA rider who took a Philadelphia tourist's bag containing her family's passports on Thursday returned the bag early Sunday morning following a public offer of amnesty from SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas Nestel.

"On Thursday, my trip turned into a nightmare and I was so sad," said Ximena Estrada, 35, of Colombia. "But when I got that phone call, it was like, wow. I felt so grateful, so grateful."

Estrada and her children, a 14-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, have been visiting family in Philadelphia from South America since June. On Thursday, the three took the Route 58 SEPTA bus; when Estrada got off, she realized she'd left her backpack, which contained her children's passports, on the bus.

With their return trip home to Pereira, Colombia, scheduled for Tuesday, Estrada was in a panic.

She contacted SEPTA, and transit officials were able to use bus-surveillance footage to pinpoint the man who found Estrada's bag on the bus and took it with him.

That's when Nestel stepped in.

"There are just some cases you hope can be resolved quickly, and this was one of those cases," he said. "They needed their passports, and I was willing to give up arresting somebody if it could help the family."

So on Saturday morning, Nestel - a popular and prolific presence on Twitter - tweeted out photos of the suspect and wrote: "Sir, the bag you took has the passports of a family who was supposed to travel out of the country on Tuesday. Amnesty offer: If you return the bag & contents to the Transit Police by 5 p.m. on Monday, you will not be charged."

SEPTA's media relations department also alerted local news outlets of Nestel's offer.

Around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, the man who was photographed taking Estrada's bag went to the Philadelphia Police Department's Second District in Mayfair and returned the bag, SEPTA spokeswoman Kristen Geiger said. Officers there summoned SEPTA police, who confirmed the bag contained the missing necessary items. They then let the man go on his way.

"He was released and the bag was returned," Geiger said.

Nestel was pleased that the amnesty offer worked.

"I was happy, but I will tell you who was really happy: the victim," he said. "She texted me with so many happy-face emojis. She was so thrilled."

A SEPTA officer hand-delivered the bag to Estrada's doorstep, she said.

"I thought, 'This is so great,' " she said. "I think there is good people and bad people in every place and culture."

Estrada said the important items in her bag, such as the passports, some jewelry, and her cellphone were all accounted for, but missing from the bag were some clothes, her makeup, nail polish, and shoes.

"He only returned the most valuable items," she said, laughing.

farrs@phillynews.com

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