MOUNT VERNON, Ohio – An Ohio man accused of kidnapping a 13-year-old girl found bound and gagged in a basement may have been watching her family beforehand, authorities said.
Matthew J. Hoffman even sat nearby last week as police recovered the missing family's truck in central Ohio, Knox County Sheriff David Barber said.
Now, investigators acknowledge hope is dimming that the girl's mother, brother and family friend will be found alive nearly a week after they were reported missing.
"You have to be realistic that there's a possibility that these folks are dead," Barber said Monday.
Police on Sunday rescued 13-year-old Sarah Maynard from the basement of Hoffman's home, then launched a search of a nearby lake for Maynard's mother, 32-year-old Tina Herrmann; the woman's 10-year-old son, Kody Maynard; and her 41-year-old friend, Stephanie Sprang.
All four vanished last Wednesday from a Howard, Ohio, home that police say was splattered with blood.
Sprang's father, Steve Thompson, said Tuesday he's not listening to the pessimistic possibility outlined by the sheriff.
"We know they are alive and we will find them eventually," Thompson said in an interview with CBS' "The Early Show," expressing hope that the three are tied up somewhere and will soon free themselves and resurface.
Hoffman, who's been charged with one count of kidnapping, is to appear via video from jail for a bond hearing Tuesday. The sheriff said he does not yet have a lawyer.
It wasn't clear how well Hoffman knew the four missing people, but the sheriff suggested that the defendant had been watching them.
"They knew Hoffman or Hoffman made himself known to them; he acquainted himself with the family whether they knew he was acquainting himself with them or not," Barber said.
Thompson said he did not know Hoffman and had no idea how he became connected with his daughter and Herrmann.
"From all indications, when I'm talking to neighbors and so forth, it's the type of person that was — I don't think either one of the girls would have been really talking with him or just hanging out with him," Thompson told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday morning.
Authorities first questioned Hoffman on Thursday, the day after Herrmann failed to show up for work at Dairy Queen. Police found him sitting in his car near a bike trail opposite property owned by Kenyon College, near where Herrmann's pickup truck was found, Barber said.
The sheriff didn't say what later led investigators to Hoffman's two-story, tan-sided house in Mount Vernon, where authorities spent Monday scouring bike paths and riverbanks. A search team pulled a car and an SUV from a lake near Hoffman's home, but investigators say they're not likely related to the disappearances.
Authorities were to continue the search on Tuesday.
Hoffman's mother and stepfather live less than a mile away from Herrmann's home in a lakeside community north of Columbus. Hoffman last lived there two years ago, his mother said, before declining to comment further.
Hoffman was sentenced to eight years in prison in Colorado in 2001 for arson and other charges. Authorities allowed him to move to Ohio in 2007 after he was released on parole, which ended about a month ago. He had paid about $4,800 toward $2.06 million in restitution, Colorado court system spokesman Jon Sarche said.
In Ohio, the sheriff declined to comment on whether Sarah was assaulted or the details of her capture. She was released from a hospital and was staying with relatives.
"She is a very brave little girl," Barber said. "Under the circumstances, a 13-year-old girl being held captive for four days by a total stranger ... I would call her the epitome of bravery."
Two blocks from Hoffman's home in Mount Vernon, about 200 community members prayed and lit candles at a church vigil for the missing people.
"I'm expecting the worst but hoping for the best," said Jacki Mace, a manager at Sunset Lane Tanning, where Herrmann and Sprang were regular customers.
Mace, 20, said Herrmann was last in the salon Wednesday morning. She called Herrmann "a sweetheart."
"If you were feeling down that day she'd do anything to make you smile, pick you up, tell you a funny story. She was a delight," Mace said. "And Stephanie was the same. She was just a sweetie. They were so nice. Never had any problems with them."
Associated Press writers Doug Whiteman and JoAnne Viviano in Columbus, John Seewer in Toledo and P. Solomon Banda in Denver contributed to this report.