SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A 55-year-old Utah man has been arrested in the disappearance of a teenage girl last week that set off a massive search involving 1,000 volunteers in freezing temperatures.
The teenager — 13-year-old Brooklyn Gittins — was without her shoes or a coat when she crawled out of her bedroom window at her suburban Herriman home on Jan. 8. She called her grandmother two days later and officers later found her uninjured at a Wal-Mart store.
Police arrested Angel Garcia of Draper on Wednesday at about 7:30 p.m. He was booked on suspicion of child kidnapping, harboring a runaway, obstructing justice and endangering a child, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said.
Garcia told police that an upset Gittins called him and he came to pick her up and then allowed her to stay in his house and sleep in his bed for two days. Garcia knew about the search, and hid the teen in his bedroom when police came to his house, Winder said.
Police do not believe there was any sexual assault.
Whether the teen stayed with Garcia willingly is irrelevant, Winder said at a Wednesday night news conference. Because of Gittins’ age, she’s considered a victim of a crime, the sheriff said, according to KSL-TV.
A charging document from the Unified Police Department states that Gittins used a phone given to her by Garcia to call him after she climbed out of her window.
During the second night at Garcia’s house in Draper, the girl heard a knock and heard police asking about her. She went to hide in the bedroom while Garcia answered the door, the document said.
After Garcia denied having the girl, he drove her to a nearby shopping center and dropped her off to hide in a ditch for several hours. She was still wearing a T-shirt and pajamas with no shoes or jacket in the cold.
Garcia later picked her up and took her back to his house. Gittens then called her grandmother and arranged to be picked up at a Wal-Mart. Police located her after the grandmother contacted police.
The two-day search covered 17 square miles in the area near Gittins’ home. The taxpayer cost of the search hasn’t yet been calculated, Unified Police spokesman Lt. Justin Hoyal said.
When police interviewed Garcia this week, he told them that he saw the search on television and even talked about it with a neighbor. He didn’t explain why he hid the girl when police came to his house, and then took her to a ditch.
Winder said Gittins and Garcia knew each other through common friends, KSL-TV reported.
Gittins hasn’t returned to school, the sheriff said. Her grandfather, Craig Hiller, said she was “very subdued” over the weekend.
“I’m sure (she’s) just trying to figure out what to do, being a 13-year-old girl,” Hiller said, according to KSL-TV. “She’s just kind of keeping to herself at this time.”
The case has been turned over to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office to determine if formal charges will be filed against Garcia.
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