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Man Admits Kidnapping, Officers Say : Crime: The suspect also allegedly stole a vehicle, but denies seeing the owner, a missing Westlake woman.

September 22, 1993|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 19-year-old Thousand Oaks kidnaping suspect arrested in Nevada this week admitted that he took a missing nurse's truck last week, abducted his ex-girlfriend and drove her to Reno in it, Ventura County detectives said Tuesday.

But Mark Scott Thornton denied he ever saw the nurse on Sept. 14, the day she disappeared, said Sheriff's Lt. Lary Reynolds.

Thornton, who is known by his stepfather's last name--Sarrazin--is scheduled to face an extradition hearing today in Reno, authorities said. He is being held without bail at Washoe County Detention Center in Reno.

Reynolds said that Thornton told detectives he found 34-year-old Kellie O'Sullivan's black 1991 Ford Explorer empty outside a Thousand Oaks pet shop and took it because the keys were inside.

Thornton also admitted abducting 16-year-old Stephanie Campbell later that night and driving her to Reno in the truck, Reynolds said. Stephanie walked away from him at the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino there early Monday while he was playing a video game, and police arrested him moments later as he was using a house phone to have her paged.

But the teen-ager denied he had any role in the disappearance of O'Sullivan, a Westlake nurse who was last seen in the car about nine hours before the alleged abduction, Reynolds said.

The arrest shocked Thornton's parents, who said Tuesday they could never imagine their polite, inarticulate, learning-disabled son hurting anyone, much less kidnaping his ex-girlfriend or taking a truck by force.

"It's just an unbelievable thing," Markita Sarrazin said Tuesday afternoon. "He wouldn't hurt a flea. He's so quiet and so timid. He's very, very withdrawn. He's not a troublemaker by any means. He's more of a follower."

Meanwhile, volunteers searched the rugged hills of Thousand Oaks by horseback, helicopter and four-wheel-drive vehicles for any sign of O'Sullivan.

By nightfall, the search had swelled to include about 80 to 100 volunteers and sheriff's reservists, plus specially trained search-and-rescue dogs.

O'Sullivan, still dressed in her nurse's uniform from a morning shift at a Canoga Park clinic, was last seen in Thousand Oaks about 2 p.m. Sept. 14, police said.

The pet shop owner said Tuesday he remembered someone who resembled her coming in to buy bird seed for a baby African gray parrot, but neither he nor owners of neighboring stores remembered seeing her black Ford Explorer. The O'Sullivan family says she owns such a parrot.

Sheriff's helicopters scoured Wildwood Park and Hill Canyon, where criminals have dumped stolen cars in the past. "We're just flying and looking for something white," said sheriff's helicopter pilot Chris Spangenberg.

"There are people who have gotten involved with this (search) who don't even know Kellie," said her ex-husband, Cliff O'Sullivan. "What we really need now is able-bodied people to help search."

O'Sullivan's family said the FBI has joined the investigation because the case involved interstate flight, although FBI agents refused Tuesday to confirm or deny whether they are involved.

As the search went on, Thornton's parents groped for understanding what had happened to their son.

By their accounts, he grew up a happy kid who loved playing with toy cars, but then began to have brushes with the law that included a burglary arrest last November.

"He was never, ever allowed to play with (guns) as a child," Markita Sarrazin said. "He raced Matchbox cars. It's been something since he was very small. It was never a gun he played with, it was a car."

She added: "I can't see him holding a gun to someone and telling them, 'Get in the car.' If he wanted anything, it was the car because it had keys in it. I can't see him hurting anybody."

But Lt. Reynolds said that the .38-caliber snub-nose revolver that Thornton pulled out just before police arrested him--the one he allegedly used to force Stephanie into the car a week earlier--was reported stolen in a Thousand Oaks house burglary in July.

Thornton has always been smart, but he has trouble articulating his thoughts, his mother said.

"If you look at his test scores, he's very intelligent," she said. "He's just not able to communicate."

This learning disability kept him in special-education classes throughout Hoover High School in Glendale, then at schools in Thousand Oaks when his family moved there about 18 months ago, she said.

From age 12, he and his stepfather loved racing radio-controlled cars on special tracks, competing at places like Bakersfield and Del Mar.

Thornton harbored ambitions of becoming a professional race car driver and even fantasized about going to a sports driving school, his mother said.

He introduced her to Stephanie earlier this summer, she said, but she thought little of it, figuring boys have a lot of girlfriends.

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