DETROIT – A 16-year-old girl who tricked her parents into getting her a passport and then flew to the Mideast to be with a man she met on MySpace.com has returned to Michigan.
U.S. officials in Jordan persuaded Katherine R. Lester to turn around and go home before she reached the West Bank. Lester arrived at Bishop International Airport in Flint late Friday and was taken to a private area to be reunited with her family.
She disappeared Monday after talking her parents into getting her a passport by saying she was going to Canada with friends, sheriff's officials said.
She apparently planned to visit a man whose MySpace account describes him as a 25-year-old from Jericho, Undersheriff James Jashinske said.
MySpace.com is a social networking Web site with more than 72 million members that lets users post photos, blogs and journals. It is owned by the same parent company, News Corp., that owns FOX News. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.
Lester apparently contacted the man from Jericho about three months ago, Jashinske said. Jericho, a city of 17,000, is a relatively calm area of the volatile West Bank.
The FBI traced the teenager to a Wednesday flight from New York's Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv, Israel. At a scheduled stop in Amman, Jordan, U.S. officials persuaded her to return home, FBI agent Robert Beeckman said.
"Thank God she was returned safely," Lester's father said Friday afternoon while awaiting her arrival.
Terry Lester said his daughter is a straight-A student and student council member. "She's a good girl. Never had a problem with her," he said.
MySpace forbids youngsters 13 and under from joining and provides special protections for those 14 and 15 — only people on their list of friends can view their profiles. Older users also have the option of restricting certain personal data so it can be seen only by people they have identified as friends.
Shawn Lester told The Saginaw News that her daughter has "never given me a day's trouble. ... I just don't understand with all these new laws protecting America how a 16-year-old kid could get out of the country." She said her daughter never had a boyfriend and seemed to be content with that.
Katherine and her mother live in Gilford, a village about 80 miles north of Detroit in Michigan's agricultural Thumb region. Her father lives in Grand Blanc Township.
Jashinske said deputies confiscated the family's home computer and were taking it to the FBI's Bay City office for analysis. He said it remained unclear whether any laws had been violated because of Lester's age. The age of sexual consent in Michigan is 16; Katherine turns 17 on June 21.
"I'll be honest with you, we don't know if a crime's been committed," Jashinske said.