LONDON – A 12-year-old British girl flew home to her relieved parents Wednesday as the former U.S. Marine she ran off with was arrested in Germany on charges of abduction.
Toby Studabaker (search), 31, and Shevaun Pennington, the schoolgirl he met in an Internet chat room, had evaded police since they left Britain together Saturday on a flight to Paris.
Shevaun's parents in northwest England made public appeals for her safe return. Studabaker's family in Michigan said the ex-Marine had thought the girl, with whom he had discussed marriage, was 18 or 19.
Police said the pair had separated by Wednesday afternoon, when Studabaker was arrested for alleged abduction under an international warrant in Frankfurt (search).
They said Studabaker had contacted the FBI at lunchtime, then was arrested by Frankfurt police. Shevaun already was on her way home, flying back to Manchester in northern England via Amsterdam from Stuttgart.
German authorities said they are investigating whether Studabaker can be extradited to Britain. They are also investigate whether he could be charged with child abuse (search) in Germany, said Christian Brockert, a spokesman for the Federal Criminal Office.
He is expected to be brought before a judge in Frankfurt Thursday.
[TheSmokingGun.com Web site reported that Studabaker was arrested in 1998 for felony sexual misconduct involving two young relatives. The case was dropped due to lack of evidence, the Web site reported.]
Shevaun was later reunited with her parents, Stephen and Joanna Pennington, at a police station near her home in Lowton, northwest England.
"I am not aware that she has been harmed in any way, but again we haven't had the opportunity to speak with her yet," said police Superintendent Peter Mason as he told reporters of Studabaker's arrest and Shevaun's arrival in Britain.
In a brief, televised interview Wednesday, Joanna Pennington wept as she thanked police for the "team effort" that brought her daughter home.
"I cannot tell you how relieved I am," she said, with her husband seated nearby. "It is absolutely fantastic."
The Penningtons said they received a phone call from their daughter Wednesday morning and immediately started arranging her return.
Shevaun and Studabaker had corresponded on the Internet for several months before the Michigan man flew into Manchester Airport in northern England on Saturday for their first meeting.
They initially flew to Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris. Police said they have not yet determined their exact movements after that but said they were together Tuesday night.
Shevaun's parents said their daughter had telephoned on Tuesday, saying she was well and not being kept against her will.
Studabaker's brother and sister-in-law, Leo and Sherry Studabaker, said he had told them by telephone that he intended to contact the FBI and that he had been deceived into meeting Shevaun because she lied about her age.
The former Marine had believed the girl was aged 18 or 19 and the two had discussed marriage, Leo Studabaker said.
But a British police official speaking on condition of anonymity said American investigators had evidence, taken from Studabaker's computer during investigations into the missing pair, that he knew that Shevaun was 12. The sources also said that images of child pornography were discovered on Studabaker's computer.
Mason, the police superintendent, said Shevaun believed she was in a relationship with Studabaker.
"It is a relationship that has developed over a number of months, starting off on Internet chat lines and progressing through to e-mails and personal letters," he said.
In a televised appeal Wednesday morning before her daughter's return, Joanna Pennington said Shevaun had "feelings" for Studabaker and added she respected them.
"I'm actually quite relieved that he's still with her in a way because he's obviously helping to look after her. As long as she comes back, she can even come back with him, I'm not bothered," Shevaun's mother told Sky TV News.
Studabaker, of Constantine, Mich., joined the Marines in 2000 and served in an anti-terrorism unit in Afghanistan, said Sgt. Spencer Harris, a spokesman for the Camp Lejeune Marine base in North Carolina. He was discharged on June 30, Harris said.
After his arrest Wednesday, Sherry Studabaker said her brother-in-law was at the center of a misunderstanding.
"I think the media is making a bigger issue out of this than what really has gone on. He's not that type of person and we really do not like what is being said about him," she told Sky News.
"She told him she was 19, she was in college. This is just a big mistake and I think Shevaun will sort it out, I hope so."