ASHTABULA, Ohio (WJW) – A 12-year-old girl who went missing Thursday is now on her way home. The man accused of abducting her is locked up in a Texas jail.
Ashtabula County Sheriff William Niemi told the FOX 8 I-Team that the girl was located after law enforcement tracked down the suspect’s car in Gray County, Texas on Saturday.
“We found her safe,” Niemi said. “Thank God for that.”
Gray County Sheriff Lt. Colby Brown said Joseph Gunter, 40, was arrested after a deputy spotted the vehicle and stopped it.
Brown said the deputy heard radio traffic from the Texas Department of Public Safety about the search for the 12-year-old.
“They were sending units closer to the Oklahoma border to look for the vehicle that the abducted girl was in,” Brown said. “When the call came out, the vehicle went past him and he was able to recognize that was the vehicle they were looking for and made a traffic stop.”
Gunter is being held in the Randall County Jail on a federal hold.
Federal officials are continuing to investigate.
The 12-year-old Ashtabula girl met the man online. Sheriff Niemi said the man drove from New Mexico to Ashtabula and is accused of kidnapping the girl on Thursday.
The girl’s mother, Jamie Phillips, said her daughter went for a walk Thursday morning and when she didn’t return two hours later, she called deputies.
Phillips started checking with neighbors and her daughter’s friends. She soon learned that her daughter had told one of her friend’s that a man she met online threatened to kidnap her. Phillips turned that information over to deputies.
Detectives worked with the FBI and were able to get the license plate number of the suspect’s vehicle.
“We were able to get that information off a Flock camera of the suspect’s vehicle and plate which showed him in the state of Kentucky 10 hours after she was reported missing,” the Niemi said. “The information on the vehicle was then sent out to law enforcement everywhere. We are so happy she was found safe.”
On Monday, the victim was reunited with her family and is on her way back to Ohio.
Sheriff Niemi said he has this message for Gunter and anyone else who is thinking of coming to Ashtabula to harm a child.
“Don’t come here,” Niemi said. “Because if you do, we are going to come for you, no matter where you go.”