Two teenage girls from Whitehall were found safe in Ohio on Friday night after two men they met on the internet came to the region to pick them up and drove them hours west, police said.
Parents of the girls were driving late Friday to southwestern Ohio to pick up the girls, who the men dropped off at a restaurant after learning Friday that police were looking for them. The girls, ages 14 and 15, were believed to be unharmed.
The men, ages 24 and 36, from Missouri, were in custody in Monroe, Ohio, and were to be brought back to Washington County in the coming days to face first-degree kidnapping charges, according to State Police. Their names were not immediately released.
Police said the investigation was ongoing as to what contact the men had with the teens, but both suspects were to be charged and extradited in the coming days.
According to State Police, one of the girls met one of the men online, and they arranged a meeting locally late Thursday or early Friday where the other man and teen tagged along.
There was no indication the girls’ were taken against their will, as they left letters saying they were going to Maine with the parents of one of the girls. But the families quickly determined that was not true, and contacted police.
It was unclear whether the men knew their ages, but under state law, a child lying about their age does not absolve a person of culpability for illegal conduct.
As State Police were preparing to release an “Amber Alert” late Friday, they learned the girls had been located in Ohio.
Investigators determined the men had driven as far west as Indiana, but turned around and started heading east when they learned police were investigating the girls’ disappearance.
The men eventually called police and then turned themselves in at a police station in Monroe, Ohio, authorities said.
Whitehall Police are assisting State Police from the Granville station and other State Police investigative arms with the investigation.
The case was the second in the region in less than a year where a local girl left home with an older man she met online, after a Hudson Falls girl went to New York City last September with a man she met on Facebook.
State Police Investigator Kevin Reppenhagen said the case shows the need for parents to closely monitor their children’s social media and electronic device usage.
“This kind of thing is happening too frequently,” he said.
More details will be posted when they become available.
Don Lehman covers police and court matters and Warren County government. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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