Cuyahoga County

Law enforcement collaboration leads to missing teen’s safe return

12/4/2015

Brooklyn, Ohio – Hard work, high technology and close cooperation among law enforcement agencies in two states enabled the safe return of a 15-year-old girl lured from her home in suburban Cleveland and taken to rural Missouri by a 41-year-old man she had met online.

The young victim disappeared from her home on Sunday evening, November 8. On Tuesday, December 1, acting on information supplied by the Brooklyn Police Department and the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, investigators from the Warren County (Mo.) Sheriff’s Department executed search warrants at the Marthasville home of Christopher David Schroeder where they arrested him and found the missing girl.

The child arrived Thursday evening at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport accompanied by her mother as well as Brooklyn Police Detective Joe Tenhunfeld and Ohio ICAC Task Force Criminal Analyst Caroline Wathey.

Schroeder has been charged by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri with transporting a minor across state lines to engage in criminal sexual activity. The criminal investigation into this case continues and additional state and federal charges are likely.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the work done by Detective Tenhunfeld and the rest of our department, by the Ohio ICAC Task Force and by all the other law enforcement agencies that enabled us to find this girl and bring her home safely,” said Brooklyn Police Chief Scott Mielke. “They never gave up, they never stopped working, and they never lost faith.”

Chief Mielke added, “My thanks and congratulations also go out to Crime Stoppers, to the Missouri ICAC Task Force, to the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, to the St. Charles County Police Department and to the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force. They all helped bring this man to justice.”

“This is just the kind of cooperation across jurisdictional and even state lines that it takes to solve such a complicated and horrific case,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, chairman of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. “This pervert probably figured that once he had spirited this little girl out of Ohio and back to Missouri that he was home free. Well, he was very wrong.”

The law enforcement cooperation cited by Prosecutor McGinty began almost immediately after Brooklyn Police started searching for the missing child on November 8.

While officers interviewed family, friends, classmates and anyone else who might have seen the missing child or know her whereabouts, they also reached out to the Ohio ICAC Task Force – one of 61 collaborations nationally that provide investigative, forensic and prevention resources to battle online exploitation of children. The efforts of these units are funded in part by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

In the immediate aftermath of the Brooklyn girl’s disappearance, Criminal Analyst Wathey, who is employed by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office and is detailed to Ohio ICAC Task Force, began digging into emails, Facebook accounts and mobile numbers tied to the child and others around her. None of those initial leads panned out. Nor did subsequent ones based on the investigative efforts of the Brooklyn Police, who doggedly chased down every clue or lead they received.

The big break came on Monday of this week. Brooklyn Police learned that the missing girl – or someone using information known to her – was using a secondary, fictitious Facebook account to communicate with friends in the Cleveland area. Criminal Analyst Wathey subpoenaed information from Facebook and got the case’s first solid leads.

That led to another round of subpoenas to Internet service providers. Facebook also produced a batch of messages they deemed suspicious under the circumstances. With the account in active use, Criminal Analyst Wathey was able to obtain Internet provider information and identified two addresses in Missouri associated with an individual named Christopher Schroeder.

After weeks of searching through an electronic haystack, she had found the missing needle.

One of the messages Criminal Analyst Wathey uncovered said, “I haven’t hurt her, I don’t plan on it but she keeps crying.” Brooklyn Police obtained a search warrant for Facebook and secured a complete overview of the second Facebook account, including active IP addresses and recent chat conversations.

By Tuesday morning, Criminal Analyst Wathey had enough solid information to contact the Missouri ICAC Task Force and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department with the target addresses and to enlist their help. At approximately 4:30 p.m. Central Time that afternoon, Missouri authorities executed a search warrant at Schroeder’s South Lake Sherwood Drive home and found the child so many people had been looking for.

Once she was safely in the custody of law enforcement, the Brooklyn girl told authorities that she had met Schroeder online several months ago through Kik Messenger and that he had traveled to Brooklyn to meet her. After she got in his car, he took her phone – eventually disposing of it – and drove back to Missouri. She said she had been held against her will in Schroeder’s home ever since.

“The facts will show that this young woman was exploited in a brutal and shocking manner by a man old enough to be her father,” said Prosecutor McGinty. “She deserves her privacy and the support of everyone in this community as she recovers from this awful ordeal.”

Contact: Joseph Frolik, Director of Communications and Public Policy. Phone: 216.443.7488 or Email: jfrolik@prosecutor.cuyahogacounty.us