A Tennessee girl has been found with a sex offender in Virginia after vanishing more than than two weeks ago. She met the man online and soon disappeared afterwards, according to FOX News.
The Tennessee girl, 14, was found with known sex offender Benjamin Shook, 41, at a home early Tuesday morning. An Amber Alert that was issued for the teen on June 23, when she was spotted with Shook at a North Carolina WalMart, has been canceled.
The teenager is believed to have left her home in Surgoinsville on the night of June 22 in her father’s Ford Explorer to pick up Shook. Federal, state and local authorities have tracked the pair’s trail for 16 days, eventually focusing on Smyth County — just over the state’s border with North Carolina — after several sightings there.
The Tennessee girl was found with the offender after authorities were combing Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest along the Appalachian Trail for the two. Search teams discovered camping equipment in Smyth County they apparently used.
Officials said Tuesday that Shook was arrested and the Tennessee girl was rescued after a woman tipped off authorities that Shook and the teen had knocked on the door of her Smyth County, Virginia home and asked to take a shower. The woman called 911 just after 5 a.m. Tuesday and investigators responded to the home near Atkins, found the teen girl safe and took Shook into custody without incident.
“The entire goal of this operation has always been to put a sexual predator behing bars and bring a 14-year-old lady back home to her family,” neighboring Wythe County, Virginia sheriff Keith Dunnegan said at a press conference Tuesday. “This morning, we were able to accomplish that.”
The sex offender apparently knew he and teen were being tracked and took steps to remain undetected, officials said Tuesday, using Cedar Springs road as a “handrail” to guide their travel but keeping well off the road. Officials said the Tennessee girl and Shook had apparently been living off the land, allegedly stealing food and breaking into homes, and traveling at dusk to avoid being seen.
Shook has active warrants and failed to register as a sex offender in Georgia, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He’s faced previous charges for child molestation.
Shook was arrested by local law enforcement in Smyth County but is now in U.S. Marshals custody on a federal warrant. He’s being transported to Greenville, Tennessee to appear before a federal judge.
The Tennessee girl was found safe with the offender, but it’s still not clear whether she may have been abused during the 16 days. Investigators are working to determine whether any more crimes were committed before she was rescued.