Editor’s note: This story updates an article in the May 18 edition of The Times-Sentinel, including the name of a suspect arrested in Colorado Springs.
By Sam Jack
CLEARWATER – A man was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping in Colorado Springs, Colo., after a Clearwater student went missing last Thursday.
According to Sgt. Jeff Swanson of the Kansas Internet Crimes Against Children task force, the female student went missing after school on Thursday, May 11, and was found safe around 6:30 p.m. the following day.
“At this point, what I can tell you is that we’re conducting an investigation into a student from Clearwater running away from home, and the circumstances surrounding that,” Swanson said Monday.
The student’s older brother, Damien Kitchens, said his sister got into an adult man’s white pickup truck at Casey’s General Store and drove away. She was found at the man’s residence in Colorado Springs, Colo., a day later.
“Police were of the opinion that this was a pedophile performing his first major act,” Kitchens said.
Police were preparing to issue an Amber Alert when Kitchens’ sister was found, Kitchens also said.
According to the Colorado Springs police blotter, Sedgwick County Internet Crimes Against Children detectives reached out to their counterparts in Colorado Springs at around 11 a.m. on Friday, May 12.
Later that day, Noah Purdy, 25, a Colorado Springs resident, was arrested and booked into jail on charges of second-degree kidnapping, a felony, and harboring a minor, a misdemeanor. He was released on bail the following the day, local media reported.
Kitchens said that people should be aware that human trafficking can happen anywhere, including Clearwater.
“Clearwater is near a major interstate artery that leads in a straight line to the border (of Mexico),” he said. “They should be talking about it in the schools, they should be talking about it in the news. I was shocked at the ignorance I found around town regarding it.”
Clearwater police chief Bill Hisle said he could not think of a comparable previous incident locally.
“We certainly have kids that, from time to time, run away, but this is the first time I’ve been aware of an incident like this happening in Clearwater,” he said
Kitchens wrote in a public Facebook post, and repeated to The Times-Sentinel, that he was upset by what he thought was a lack of cooperation from Casey’s when officers tried to access the store’s surveillance video footage Thursday evening. The footage was made available Friday morning.
Fern Neumiller, the store manager, said that she spoke to one of her employees on Thursday night, did not speak directly to the police, and did not get the impression that it was a time-sensitive request.
“I feel like I did nothing wrong,” she said. “Yes, I felt bad when I found out what it was all about, but I didn’t know what was going on at 9:30 when they called. My (employee) didn’t specify what it was all about. I’d have come up here (had I known),” she said.
Sgt. Swanson said he had no comment on Kitchens’ statements regarding the video, and added, “I don’t know where he would’ve gotten that information.”