WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A 17-year-old Lake Worth teenager charged with raping an 8-year-old girl and leaving her for dead at an abandoned landfill is in the United States illegally, officials determined.
But Milagro Cunningham (search), a Bahamian native, escaped the notice of immigration authorities after three burglary arrests last year because his cases were handled in the juvenile justice system.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search) tracks the identities of everyone booked into the Palm Beach County jail to seek matches against a database of illegal immigrants.
"If he had been booked into the main jail, he would have been checked," said Art Bullock, U.S. Border Patrol chief in West Palm Beach.
Cunningham arrived in 2003 on a visitor's visa from the Bahamas and overstayed the short-term limit, said immigration spokesman Manny Van Pelt.
His juvenile court records are sealed, but acquaintances say he was on probation when he was arrested Sunday.
He was indicted as an adult Thursday on six felony charges, including attempted murder, sexual battery and kidnapping. He is being held without bail on charges carrying a possible life sentence.
Cunningham allegedly snatched the girl from her godmother's apartment, where he had been sleeping on the couch after leaving the nearby home of his aunt and uncle about four months ago.
Someone reported to police that Cunningham had been kicked out by his relatives, and they were refusing to feed him. The couple filed a report listing him as a runaway April 29.
In Sunday's frantic search, the girl spent about seven hours buried under debris in a trash bin. Searchers discovered her when they saw part of a foot and hand at the old landfill. A college scholarship fund has been created for the victim.