A former U.S. Marine who ran off with a 12-year-old British schoolgirl he met in an Internet chat room was detained in Frankfurt, Germany. The girl was reunited with her family.
The case rekindles concerns in Britain about so-called "grooming" by adults, who contact children via the Internet.
After a four-day media storm and an international manhunt involving detectives from Ireland, Germany, Britain, France and the United States, police in Frankfurt, Germany, on Wednesday tracked down and arrested Toby Studabaker. The 31-year-old ex-Marine had run off with Shevaun Pennington, a 12-year-old British schoolgirl he met in an Internet chat room.
Studabaker was alone when police detained him in downtown Frankfurt Wednesday afternoon. Pennington, who had accompanied the older man to Paris on Saturday, was already on her way back to Britain to reunite with her family. Officers from the Greater Manchester Police met the girl at the airport in England an hour after German police arrested Studabaker and took her to a police station in Leigh, near her home in northwest England, where she was returned to her relieved parents.
German police arrested Studabaker for abduction of a minor after British police issued an international arrest warrant on Saturday. British police are reportedly sending two officers to Germany to apply for Studabaker’s extradition to Britain, but German authorities have not yet said they will hand him over. At the moment the German Federal Criminal Office is investigating possible prosecution for crimes of child abuse Studabaker may have committed while in Germany.
Internet chat meeting
Pennington had been reported missing since Saturday, when police in Manchester traced the girl and Studabaker to Charles de Gaullle airport near Paris. According to police reports, Pennington contacted her parents on Tuesday and again early Wednesday saying she was fine and had not been held against her will.
Superintendent Peter Mason from the Manchester Police told reporters that the 12-year-old girl believed she was in a relationship with Studabaker, whom she had met several months ago in an Internet chat. "It is a relationship that has developed over a number of months, starting off on Internet chat lines and progressing through to e-mails and personal letters," Mason said.
Studabaker, for his part, told police he had been led to believe that Pennington was 19 and not a minor. But police sources in Britain said images of child pornography had been discovered on the ex-Marine’s computer, indicating that he knew very well Pennington was only 12.
According to sources quoted in the German tabloid Bild, Studabaker was a veteran from the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and had been honorably discharged only two weeks ago. The highly-decorated soldier, who had already come to the attention of American police for engaging in sexual contact with minors, left his home in Michigan and flew to London where he met up with Pennington on Saturday.
Although the girl was not harmed, investigators involved in the case point to the rising numbers of pedophiles "grooming" the Internet for meetings with children. Pennington was extremely lucky, they say.