NEW BERN, N.C. – Investigators worked quickly to track down a Fort Bragg soldier and a 12-year-old girl he had been communicating with online after she disappeared from her grandmother's home overnight, a North Carolina sheriff said.
The girl's grandmother woke up Sunday morning to discover the girl was gone, but she found a ransom note on the girl's bed and her window open, Craven County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Monday. The girl was found Sunday afternoon at Fort Bragg, more than two hours away by car, with 19-year-old James Peele of Chesterfield, South Carolina, officials said.
Investigators began looking at Peele because the two were Facebook friends, said Capt. John Whitfield. Peele is charged with statutory rape and burglary and will likely face a kidnapping charge, too, Sheriff Jerry Monette said at a news conference. An earlier statement from the sheriff's office said he was charged with kidnapping. No listing could be found for Peele.
Lt. Col. Mike Burns of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg confirmed that Peele was a private, but didn't have further details.
The ransom note requesting money for her safe return "may have been some camouflage designed to throw authorities off," Monette said.
Monette's office got help from agencies in North and South Carolina, the FBI, U.S. Army CID, Secrete Service and others. He said investigators worked quickly, using cellphone tracking technology to find the girl within seven to eight hours of the time her grandmother reported her disappearance. She was reunited with her grandmother Sunday night.
"My real worry in this kind of case is that once somebody meets a young lady like this, what happens afterward?" Monette said. "If this individual had even suspected that he might be at some point in time discovered what could have happened to this young lady is really scary."
Monette warned parents to monitor their children's online activities.
"We cannot respect our children's privacy, because we live in a different day and time," he said. "There are those out there that will seek to take advantage of our children."