A Florida teenager lured into custody by a convicted sex offender with a violent history is alive and safe today after he dropped her off at a Wal-Mart store near the Alabama state line more than 400 miles from home.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced the discovery of 15-year-old Alyssa Frank at an afternoon news conference today after appealing to the public for help earlier in the day. Judd said that Frank now was with Florida authorities.
Authorities say that 46-year-old William Joe Mitchell, currently on probation, began a relationship with the girl on the social networking Web site MySpace. In a chat room, Judd said, Mitchell posed as a 24-year-old and began to "groom" a relationship with her.
Frank was last seen in her family's Bartow, Fla., home and was reported missing at 6:22 a.m. Monday by her parents. Authorities believe the teen sneaked out of the house to see Mitchell. Friends of the girl told investigators that she said she had fallen in love with a man online.
They quickly identified that man as Mitchell, referred to during the news conference as "Billy Mitch," and determined that Frank was likely with the well-known convicted felon and sex offender in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. An Amber Alert was issued and descriptions were given of both the teen and the suspect.
Judd said that Mitchell brought the girl to a Wal-Mart location and told her to meet him five minutes later. He then disappeared. "He looked for an area to dump her. And for that, we're grateful," Judd said. "Quite frankly, we're thankful he didn't kill her."
Florida authorities will continue to hunt for Mitchell, who they believe is driving a 2000 black Chevrolet Lumina and has several tattoos on his arms and fingers. Mitchell was charged in 2002 with lewd and lascivious battery on a victim 12-15 years old. He has at least 14 arrests on his criminal record and has been charged in the past in connection with robbery, weapons smuggling and making bomb threats. Judd said they believe Mitchell is carrying a handgun.
"We are relieved because she is alive and because she is well," Judd said, "but other children are not safe as long as our suspect is at large. That's why we still ask for the communitry to help us."