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Kidnapped Northridge girl was sexually assaulted, police say

Detectives are trying to determine who the 10-year-old girl's attackers were and why they chose her.

March 29, 2013|By Kate Mather, Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. police officers block off access in the Northridge neighborhood where a 10-year-old girl was reported missing early Wednesday. She was found that afternoon about six miles away.
L.A. police officers block off access in the Northridge neighborhood where… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

A 10-year-old girl kidnapped from her Northridge home in the middle of the night was sexually assaulted, and detectives are still struggling to determine why she was targeted, according to law enforcement sources.

The girl has told investigators that two men were involved and that she was taken to multiple locations in different vehicles. She was found bruised and scratched Wednesday near a Starbucks about six miles from her home.

"This 10-year-old child was traumatized after a very traumatic experience," Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Andy Smith said Thursday.

He declined to provide details about her ordeal, saying police wanted to protect her privacy. Detectives said at this point there was no indication she knew her attackers.

"Right now, we are looking at this as a stranger abduction — one of those things that is very rare in this country, but it does happen," Smith said.

The girl was identified by The Times, citing authorities, after she went missing. However, it is the policy of The Times not to identify victims in cases of alleged sexual crimes.

When asked whether the community should be concerned, Smith said that there were no indications the case was part of a series of kidnappings and that no similar incidents had been reported.

"However," he said, "as a parent, I think every parent knows that until these two individuals are captured and taken into custody, we should use all the caution we can with our children.... We don't know what they are capable of."

Detectives were chasing a variety of possible leads, including looking at registered sex offenders in the area and examining the girl's Internet activity.

Law enforcement sources said detectives also were trying to determine whether there was any connection between this case and a high-profile international child abduction in 2008.

Public records and court documents indicated one of the children kidnapped in the 2008 case was a relative of the Northridge girl.

In that case, two brothers took their sons out of the country without their ex-wives' permission.

Court documents indicated that federal authorities pursued leads in Guatemala, Turkey, Canada and Mexico before tracking the brothers and the children to the Netherlands, where they were found in November 2010.

The brothers pleaded guilty to charges of international parent kidnapping and were each sentenced last year to 27 months in prison. They were released Oct. 23, having served most of their sentences in the Netherlands and in federal custody before the plea.

The source said the brothers continued to be under court supervision after their release, and an attorney for one of the brothers said he had not been contacted by authorities.

The sources emphasized that it is one of many lines of inquiry and that they have no evidence the brothers were in any way involved in this week's kidnapping.

The girl's mother told authorities she last saw her daughter in her room about 1 a.m. Wednesday. About 3:40 a.m., police said, the mother heard a noise. When she went to check on her daughter, the girl was gone.

Authorities combed the area house by house, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the search effort. Shortly before 3 p.m., a man spotted the girl in a parking lot about six miles away and pointed her in the direction of nearby police.

LAPD officials said they believe the girl was dropped off at a nearby Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Woodland Hills. She then walked toward the Starbucks.

She had cuts and bruises, some to her face, and was "in shock," Capt. Kris Pitcher said. In news helicopter footage, she appeared to be barefoot and wearing clothing different from what she had on when she was last seen.

It remains unclear who dropped her off and how she may have left or been lured from her Northridge home. Detailed descriptions of the perpetrators were not available, though authorities said the girl guessed one was about 18 years old.

More than 20 detectives and the FBI continue to pursue the Northridge case, and broadened their investigation to an empty house near the girl's home and a storage facility less than a mile away. The house was later ruled out, LAPD Capt. William Hayes said, but police found a pickup truck at the storage facility they believe was involved.

Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.

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