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2005-05-23 08:53:14

The Bahamas: Exporting Trouble

The teen, whose parents live in the Bahamas, was charged with attempted murder, false imprisonment on a victim under 13 and sexual battery on a child under 12.

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - (KRT) - An 8-year-old girl who had been reported abducted survived for hours inside a recycling bin where police said her alleged attacker had crammed her small body. The attacker buried her with concrete chunks and then tossed the closed bin inside a roll-off trash container in an old, weedy landfill.

Police arrested a 17-year-old suspect who lives in the home of the girl's godmother on Latona Ave., where the girl was staying Saturday night. The teen was charged with attempted murder, false imprisonment on a victim under 13 and sexual battery on a child under 12, said Lake Worth police spokesman Sgt. Dan Boland.

Boland said police obtained a confession from the suspect, whom the girl identified as her attacker. The girl was reported to be in good condition Sunday at St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is not identifying the suspect or the victim because of their ages and the nature of the charges. Their relatives are also not being identified.

A report of the girl's abduction sparked an Amber Alert and intensive search in the pre-dawn hours Sunday that brought together over 100 law-enforcement officers from the Lake Worth Police Department, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, the Lantana Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"This was truly a team effort ... Luckily, we found her in time, which in this day and age is a pretty rare occurrence," said Lake Worth Mayor Marc Drautz.

Running against time, authorities used helicopters, canine and marine units to search a partly wooded, square-mile area that includes the city's landfill, which has been closed for years.

Police set up a command post at Osborne Community Center on Wingfield Street, just feet from where the girl was found.

"When a child is abducted and abandoned like this the critical thing is time ... That we found this child alive is a miracle," said Lake Worth Police Chief William Smith.

At around 10:30 a.m., Sgt. Mike Hall of the Lake Worth Police Department jumped into the large trash bin in the landfill, popped open the lid of a bright yellow recycling bin and saw the girl's hand poking through the debris she'd been buried in. He waved over Sheriff's Office Cpl. Bob Cresswell, and both men summoned other officers and rescue workers to pry the girl free.

"You always assume the worst. There is no sense to this ... Hall said.

Reached at the hospital, the girl's mother said of the suspect, "I'm angry at him. I've seen better days but I'm OK and my daughter's alive. I'm grateful."

While the girl's family and friends prayed near the search area, police questioned the suspect, who they believe was one of two people who spoke to a dispatcher at 3:44 a.m. EDT Sunday to report the girl's abduction. According to officials, the suspect said two white men driving a brown station wagon entered the apartment and kidnapped the girl from her room. Police said they quickly discredited his story based on interviews with neighbors.

Mike Edmondson, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, said minors charged with violent felonies are typically tried as adults. He said the State Attorney's Office would file formal charges after the Lake Worth Police Department completes its own investigation.

Wearing tennis shoes, denim shorts and flanked by law enforcement officers, the handcuffed suspect ducked into a police car at the Lake Worth Police Department Sunday and looked blankly out the window.

The suspect will make his first court appearance Monday and was held at the county Juvenile Assessment Center overnight, police said.

The victim's godmother said her goddaughter often stays with her on weekends and holidays. She said her 18-year-old daughter roused her from sleep when her daughter realized the girl was missing. Both of them heard the suspect pounding on the front door, claiming two men attacked him and two others abducted the girl.

"I can't believe he went through all that knowing that little girl was alive out there," the godmother said. She said the suspect is a friend of her 16-year-old son and had been living with her for four months after relatives threw him out of their home for getting into trouble with the law. The suspect's parents live in the Bahamas, she said.

The godmother said she believes the suspect sexually assaulted the girl in the bedroom she sleeps in on her frequent visits, and then hauled her to the landfill where police said he left her for dead.

"There was never any indication that he could do something this horrible," she said, describing him as helpful around the home but unemployed and with no clear plans for the future. She said he'd been playing video games just before she went to sleep at around 11:30 p.m.

When she saw her Sunday at St. Mary's Hospital, the godmother recalled the girl saying, "I was laying there waiting. I knew you were coming."

BY TAL ABBADY, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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