Published January 13, 2015
William Joe Mitchell's flight from authorities ended at a Virginia truck stop.
The 46-year-old sex offender accused of running off with a 15-year-old Florida girl was arrested Saturday by state police at the Flying J Truck Stop in Winchester, Va., according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office in central Florida.
The girl had been released at a Wal-Mart store last week.
Mitchell is wanted in Alabama on allegations including rape and kidnapping and Florida officials accuse him of enticing a child via the Internet, violating his probation and other allegations.
He is being held without bond at Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester.
State police were notified that the U.S. Marshals Service had tracked Mitchell to a truck stop on Interstate 81, near the West Virginia border. Four state troopers surrounded Mitchell and took him into custody without incident around 11:30 a.m.
Mitchell was standing alongside a 2000 black Chevrolet Lumina that detectives believed he had been driving throughout the investigation. Personal belongings of the girl were visible inside the vehicle, officials said in a statement.
Mitchell was being served federal and state warrants, none from Virginia, said Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, who had no further details. She did not know whether he had a lawyer.
The 15-year-old girl spurred a statewide manhunt when she sneaked out of her house before dawn on Monday. She told friends she was running away for love, to be with a boy she met online. She believed Mitchell was in his early 20s.
The Associated Press is not naming the girl because she is a suspected sexual abuse victim.
Police believe heavy publicity in the hours after the girl disappeared pressured him into dropping her off at a Wal-Mart in the Florida Panhandle.
The girl told authorities Mitchell had a handgun and said he would kill her if she drew attention to herself in the store. He told her he was going to another part of the store and would meet her in five minutes, then disappeared, authorities said.
Mitchell had 14 prior arrests ranging from burglary and bomb threats to lewd and lascivious conduct, police said.
The girl ran away the day a new Florida law took effect making the state's sex predator penalties some of the toughest in the nation.
The law requires offenders to register e-mail and instant message handles with authorities, information that will be shared with social networking sites like Myspace.com. The state also tripled the maximum sentences to 15 years for soliciting minors for sex and possessing child pornography.