Officers Have Suspect In Kidnapping

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Gila County Sheriff's detectives say they have a suspect in a reported kidnapping of a Payson teenager from her grandparents' Round Valley home.

Gila River Indian Police officers, who scoured the stolen car used in the kidnapping, found latent fingerprints, said Gila County Sheriff's Det. George Ratliff, the lead investigator in the case. The suspect's fingerprints are on file here, he said. Once Gila River officers forward the fingerprints that were found in the car, the prints can be compared with those on file, he said.

Ratliff said he was skeptical when the kidnapping was reported March 17 that the incident actually took place. But now, he said, he's "99.9 percent sure it did happen."

For one thing, he said, when police officers first found the victim a 16-year-old girl who was taking care of her grandparents' home in Round Valley she was "completely hysterical, and it wasn't a put-on. It was real."

The girl told detectives she was feeding animals on her grandparent's property when she noticed that her car's interior dome light was on. When she entered the car to turn the light off, she said, a man was hiding in the back seat.

Promising that he would not hurt her, the man forced the girl to drive to an area near the Gila River crossing and Interstate 10 toward Buckeye.

The teen told police that the man ordered her to stop along the highway, and when she did, he jumped out of the car and fled into the desert.

Frightened, the teen drove off, stopping at the next exit where she called her grandmother. Police from the Gila River Indian Community were notified, found the girl and called Gila County law officers.

The teen told police that the kidnapper was a man who stood between 5-feet, 10-inches tall and 6-feet tall and was wearing dark clothing and a ball cap. However, she also told police that she never got a good look at him.

"The suspect had been laying down in the back seat of the car," the detective said. "When the girl got in, she didn't see him. He rose up behind her and wouldn't let her look at him. He made her turn the rear-view mirror up to the point where she couldn't see him. Whenever she changed lanes, if she turned to the right, he would move to the left, and vice-versa. So she never got a look at his face, and did not recognize his voice."

Although the victim never identified the man as a Native American, the detective said, "We are assuming he is Indian because of where he had the girl take him."

Based on information obtained during the investigation of the case, the detective said, "I think (the suspected kidnaper) mistook her for somebody else."

Contrary to an earlier police report, he added, the suspect "did not use profane language" during the course of the incident. "The word 'not' was left off of the (original police) report. He was polite all of the time."

Anyone with information about the alleged kidnapping can call the Gila County Sheriff's Department at 474-2208.

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