The eight-year-old girl abducted from a playground near Vickers School last week was found when she wandered onto a rural property outside Prince Albert, police have revealed.
Prince Albert Police held a news conference Wednesday to update the public on the investigation. While several details are still being kept under wraps as the investigation continues, police were able to provide some updates on how the incident unfolded, and the scale of the resources involved.
According to Insp. Jason Stonechild, the rural resident called police when they spotted the girl, who they recognized from the Amber Alert description.
Through the use of a Ministry of Environment K9 unit, officers traced the girl’s path back to a nearby wooded area. RCMP officers processed the scene.
A little while later, another member of the public called, alerting police that the suspect had been spotted inside a West Hill business. Officers attended and arrested Jared Charles, 19, without incident
Charles is facing numerous charges, including abduction and sexual assault, in connection with the incident. He is due in court Friday, where he is expected to enter his plea.
Police wouldn’t comment on the location of the rural residence, or on details about the business where Charles was found.
They did, however, credit the public’s assistance with locating both the girl and Charles.
“Although we have extensive resources and an incredible scope of professional partnerships, nothing can compare to the reach and commitment of caring Saskatchewan citizens,” said Police Chief Troy Cooper.
The Facebook post about the girl was viewed almost 2 million times in a 24 hour period, he added.
“This was the first time our agency utilized the Amber Alert protocol, and I would like to thank the media and all other agencies involved for their assistance,” Cooper added.
“The use of social media and Amber Alert resulted in the child victim being easily identified by those who located her, and it resulted in early identification of our suspected offender.”
‘No resource has been spared’
From the beginning of the investigation, several partners were involved, and all resources available were directed toward finding the girl, Cooper said.
In the initial stages, before police had confirmed it was an abduction, officers canvassed the area where the girl went missing.
“We continued to rapidly add resources, and reached out to the community through a media release describing the missing person,” Stonechild said.
The police obtained surveillance video from the school showing an abduction did take place.
“With this confirmation, preparations for an Amber Alert began immediately,” Stonechild said.
“While this process was evolving, police resources were immediately organized to conduct an abduction investigation. All available police resources searched the city and surrounding area for the suspect vehicle.”
The Prince Albert Police reached out the neighbouring RCMP, to the ministry of environment, the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division, probation services, victim services and Saskatoon Police Air Support.
Members of the public helped too, driving around with the Amber Alert information, searching for the suspect vehicle.
“That was certainly appreciated,” Cooper said. “It’s a real necessity for cases like this, when you have a short period of time and someone is in danger. We know that in our community, people care.”
Once the victim had been located, city police took her to the hospital. Victim Services was contacted to assist those involved.
Once the suspect was in custody, police executed search warrants on his home and vehicle. Police took their time, eventually laying several charges against Charles. Eventually, they made that information public.
“A number of things had to occur,” Cooper said. “We had to continue the investigation far enough that charges could be laid. They weren’t laid immediately. There are a lot of critical investigative practices and techniques that take place in the first few days after an incident like this occurs. We had to let that stuff happen naturally. We also had to do an internal review so we were aware of what had occurred, and were aware that our policy had been followed appropriately, so we knew there wasn’t something outstanding for us to do before we went to the community.
“Our first concern was the victim. Our second concern was to make sure the file was appropriate for court and that process is protected, and the third concern goes to the need of the community to know what’s going on.”
While the matter is before the courts, the police have not concluded their investigation. Neither Cooper nor Stonechild would comment on whether further charges could be laid.
“The investigation continues, and our service is under the direction of local prosecutors,” Stonechild said.
“Together, we have charged Jared Charles with numerous serious offences.”
“Our commitment to this investigation will continue until it is concluded,” Cooper added. “No resource has been spared.”
‘This is a safe community’
As for the girl, she is safely back with family.
“She’s an intelligent and happy young girl,” Cooper said. “We’re fortunate to see she’s with her family.”
Last week the girl’s mother spoke out after critical social media users blamed the family for the disappearance. The girl was only left alone for moments while her grandmother left to grab a bottle of water, the family said.
Cooper stressed that this is about one man – the alleged abductor – and not the family or the community.
“We need to remember that this was a rare and unfortunate incident in a very safe community,” Cooper said. “The investigation to this point has been focusing on the actions of the suspected offender, and not on the actions of the victim or the victim’s family.”
Cooper did say that this sort of case is a reminder for parents to teach their children what to do if they are ever in an uncomfortable situation.
“Of course parents should continue to educate their children on the dangers of strangers,” he said, “and have an understanding of what to do if they’re approached, and how to safely get out of a situation if they’re uncomfortable – as I think (parents) always have.”