Missing teen Hayleigh Wilson found with sex offender in Virginia

Posted at 6:55 AM, Jul 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-07 15:38:33-04

WASHINGTON -- Hayleigh Wilson, the 14-year-old girl reported missing from Tennessee last month, was found Tuesday morning in Smyth County, Virginia. She was with 41-year-old Benjamin Shook, the known sex offender police believed she ran away with on June 22.

Police said the pair was caught when someone called 911 after spotting the man and the teen entering a home Tuesday morning to take a shower.

"At approximately 5 a.m., a citizen called 9-1-1 informing authorities that Shook and the missing Tennessee teen were at her home seeking refuge," the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement. "Within minutes, Smyth County officers, who are members of the USMS Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force (CARFTF), arrived at the residence and safely rescued Wilson and arrested Shook, a known sexual predator, without incident."

During a Tuesday morning briefing, police said Wilson appeared unharmed. Shook was charged with failure to register as a sex offender. Both Shook and Wilson are being questioned by police.

"The safe recovery of Hayleigh Wilson and the apprehension of Benjamin Shook is a testament to the outstanding teamwork of law enforcement and community agencies involved in this 16-day search,” said U.S. Marshals Director Stacia Hylton.

On Monday, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) announced a $5,000 reward for information on Wilson's whereabouts.

"The Marshals Service is fully engaged and partnering with local authorities in recovering this critically missing child," said U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton. "Shook is a known sexual predator and a threat to Hayleigh and others. We need the public’s help to apprehend Shook and safely recover Hayleigh."

Hayleigh left her home on Monday, June 22, took her father’s 2004 Ford Explorer and drove off to pick up 41-year-old Shook, police said.

"The child is believed to be in danger and was last seen in Smyth County, Virginia," Virginia State Police said. "The vehicle they were in was recovered in Grayson County, Virginia, and they are now on foot."

Marshals believe that the girl met Shook online.

Online app meeting

"It looks like both the child and the suspect met on an online app" called Kik, Surgoinsville Police Chief James Hammonds said. On its website, Kik says it has 200 million users.

The website Be Web Smart, which aims to help parents understand their children's digital world, expressed concern about use of the app by children in a 2014 article, updated a few weeks ago. It notes that while many people use Kik to simply send messages to friends, because "it is very popular for sexting ... it is not a good choice for kids." Kik is rated 17+ in Apple's App Store.

Hammond also expressed concern about the use of such apps by children. "These kids talking to these people on these chat apps and they really don't know who they are talking to," he said. "It is really a dangerous thing."

Amber Alert issued

An Amber Alert was issued after Hayleigh, wearing a sleeveless, flowery top and dark shorts or skirt, was seen at a Walmart in Marion, North Carolina, with Shook, who has an active warrant out for failure to register as a sex offender. "We have no idea where they could be headed," Hammonds said. "And it looks like they were buying tenting equipment at the Walmart."

Father pleads for daughter's return

Hayleigh's father, Eddie Wilson, made a tearful plea for her return. He told CNN affiliate WATE, "You don't know if she's going to be home tomorrow or a year from now. I want Hayleigh to know that we love her and we want her home. We won't stop looking for Hayleigh."

"She's a respectable little Christian girl but she got lured in," he said.

Wilson also appealed directly to Shook, saying, "For Hayleigh's sake I just ask you to be man enough to bring her home safe. Just let her out and go your own way, but bring my little girl home."

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.



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