MINNEAPOLIS – A 15-year-old Minnesota girl who thought she was helping a friend's dad was instead kidnapped and held captive for 29 days during which she was repeatedly raped, tied up with zip ties and locked in a closet before escaping and swimming across a lake to safety, prosecutors said Thursday in announcing charges against three men.
Court documents detail instances in which the girl said she believed that the men were trying to kill her, including when she fought back as one of them tried to push her underwater in a bathtub, and another when a cord or rope was placed around her neck and she was forced to hang until she couldn't breathe.
Weeks into her ordeal, police knocked on the door of the mobile home where she was being held to investigate a report of stolen property, but no one answered. After that, the men told the girl to get into a duffel bag, loaded her in the back of a truck, and moved her to an abandoned home.
The girl escaped from that home in rural, western Minnesota on Tuesday when the men left her alone for the first time in nearly a month as they went to get pizza. She knocked on nearby doors, then swam across part of a lake — losing her pants and shoes in the water — and flagged down a farmer for help.
The Associated Press generally does not name victims of sexual assault and is not naming the girl. She was reunited with her family Tuesday, and the family has asked for privacy.
Three men were charged Thursday with multiple counts. Thomas Barker, 32, of Carlos, Minnesota, and Steven Powers, 20, of Benson, were charged with kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct and false imprisonment. Joshua Holby, 31, of Carlos was charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
According to the criminal complaint, Barker kidnapped the girl from her home in Alexandria, about 133 miles (214 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis, on Aug. 8 by tricking her into thinking he needed her to talk to his son, who was misbehaving. Barker was her friend's dad, so she agreed to help, leaving her phone behind.
Prosecutors say Barker drove the girl to his mobile home in Carlos, about 9 miles away, restrained her and sexually assaulted her, brandishing a firearm and threatening to kill her.
The girl told police that shortly after her abduction, Barker, who has cerebral palsy and is physically-impaired, put her in a bathtub while she was restrained with zip ties "and she believes that he tried to drown her" but she fought back. In a second incident, the girl told police, she was put in a duffel bag that Holby and Barker put in the bathtub, but she stuck her head out of a hole in the bag. She told police that in another incident, a rope or cord was placed around her neck and she was required to stand on a bucket, the complaint said.
"She stated that Holby then forced her off of the bucket and she described a period in which she could not breathe," the complaint said. She said Powers also forced her to snort a line of "white powder."
The criminal complaint says Powers arrived at the home about two weeks into the girl's abduction and was told not to go into Barker's room when Barker and Holby left the residence. But Powers became curious, went into the bedroom and found the girl in the locked closet.
"Powers did not free (her), nor did he contact law enforcement," the complaint said.
The complaint says the girl had a television set and fan in the closet, and food and water were brought to her.
The farmer who found told police he saw something moving in a field of tall grass about 300 yards away from him, then realized it was a female running toward him — wet and wearing no pants or shoes.
When she got closer, the farmer recognized her as the girl pictured in missing-person fliers in the area. The girl said she needed the cops "now" and he called 911 while she got into his truck and hid, the complaint said.
A message left with an attorney for Barker and Holby was not immediately returned. The name of Powers' attorney was not immediately available.
According to the complaint, Barker told police that he had used methamphetamine and alcohol, but he denied knowing the girl or picking her up. Barker also said that Powers had been with the girl, but that he had not and he declined to answer more questions, the complaint said.
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