ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - A 15-year-old Minnesota girl abducted a month ago swam across a lake to freedom Tuesday after her three alleged captors left to grab some lunch, police said.
The girl, who was reported missing Aug. 8, escaped her captivity the first time she was left alone in the 29 days she was held, Alexandria Police Department officials said. The girl, whose name and photo were distributed extensively while she was missing, is no longer being identified because she is considered a victim of a crime.
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Alexandria police investigators had the girl’s three alleged captors in custody soon after her escape.
Thomas Jay Barker, 32, of Carlos; Steven Michael Samuel Powers, 20, of Mankato; and Joshua Lee Holby, 31, of Carlos, are all charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment, according to Douglas County Jail records. Barker and Powers are also charged with criminal sexual conduct.
Alexandria police officials said that the girl was being held at a foreclosed property near Thompson Lake in nearby Grant County when she made her escape. After running from door to door and knocking, to no avail, she swam across a portion of the lake, where she stumbled upon a farmer who had returned home from work to retrieve something he’d forgotten.
The farmer told WCCO, the local CBS affiliate, that he initially thought it was a deer in the grasslands on the rear of his property. When he realized it was a girl, he started to drive toward her and she began running toward his truck.
“When she come walking out of the grass, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, you got to be kidding me,’” the man, who asked to remain anonymous, told WCCO. “When I saw her face, I knew right away.”
He immediately recognized the girl from the photos circulated while she was missing, and called 911.
The farmer told the news station that he was helping the victim out of his truck and into a patrol car when the girl shouted, “There’s the car, there’s the car.” She spotted the vehicle belonging to one of the suspects passing the farmer’s home.
“So one of the deputies chased him down,” the farmer said. The arrest of the driver, Powers, marked the first of the three arrests in the case.
KSTP in Saint Paul reported that a Minnesota state trooper took Barker and Holby into custody during a traffic stop a few hours later.
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said that the teenager told investigators that Barker, the father of a friend, approached her outside her home late the night of Aug. 8, asking for her help with a situation with his son.
The girl’s mother told KSTP that her family has known Barker for years.
“He’s known us since my kids were in diapers,” the woman told the news station. “And so, we’ve known each other that long. But I stopped talking to him years ago, just because of all the trouble he caused.”
The girl agreed to help with Barker’s son and got into his car. Instead of taking her to the boy in Alexandria, however, Barker allegedly drove her to his home in Carlos, where he and Holby, his roommate, restrained her with zip ties and repeatedly assaulted her.
Powers joined in with the assaults about two weeks after the girl had been abducted, police officials said.
The girl told police that the men moved her from Barker and Holby’s home late last week, keeping her in a variety of cornfields before moving her to the foreclosed home from which she escaped.
The girl told investigators that she was placed in a duffel bag multiple times during her ordeal, and that Barker tried to drown her in a bathtub, but she fought him off, according to court documents obtained by KSTP. The records allege that she was moved from place to place in the duffel bag.
The documents show that the girl also told detectives the men made her stand on a bucket with a rope around her neck and that at one point, Holby pushed her off the bucket, causing her to be unable to breathe, the news station reported.
Alexandria police officials are asking area farmers to check their cornfields for signs of damage, such as that caused by a vehicle driving through it. They are also asking fishermen on Thompson Lake to keep an eye out for the girl’s pants and shoes, which she lost as she swam for help.
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