LANCASTER – Two teenage girls kidnapped early Thursday from a remote lovers’ lane and raped were rescued hours later when sheriff’s deputies closed in on the suspect’s stolen Ford Bronco and shot him to death.
Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks said he was certain the suspect, Roy Dean Ratliff, 37, who was wanted for rape, was just minutes away from killing the girls and had gone to a remote location in the high desert, 100 miles from where they were kidnapped.
“He was hunting for a place to kill ’em and bury ’em,” Sparks said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” program.
“He already raped them and there wasn’t anything left to do,” Sparks said.
“When he saw the three helicopters in the air he said ’I gotta get rid of these girls’ and he certainly wasn’t going to drop them at the post office,” the sheriff said.
The suspect showed a gun when two deputies arrived and said “No way, no way,” Sparks said. The deputies shot at him numerous times and struck him twice in the head, Sparks said.
The girls were in the back of the vehicle at the time and were not immediately visible to the deputies when the shooting started, Sparks said. One deputy pulled them out of the vehicle.
The girls, Tamara Brooks, 16, and Jacqueline Marris, 17, were identified before authorities learned that they had been raped.
Television footage showed the sobbing girls being bandaged for what appeared to be minor injuries.
Peter Bryan, administrator for Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, said the girls were being examined in the emergency room Thursday afternoon. He said they were “coherent, awake, alert,” but he declined to discuss their conditions.
Ratliff had a criminal record dating back to the 1980s in Nebraska and California that included prison stretches for theft, burglary and possession of methamphetamines.
Sparks said the girls still had duct tape stuck on them when they were rescued from the white Ford Bronco but were no longer bound by it.
“I don’t know that they’ll ever be the same, that’s hard to say,” Sparks said. “They were very thankful that they were alive but they got a lot of things to work out.”
Friends and relatives who gathered in Lancaster hugged and wept when they were told the girls were safe.
“My little child Jackie, I can’t wait to see her. I love her so much. If you’re watching this honey, I love you, I can’t wait for you to get home,” said Jacqueline’s father, Herb Marris of Mission Viejo.
“I never lost hope,” said Tamara’s father, Sammie Brooks. “Tammie is a very, very strong-willed person. It’s gonna take her awhile, but I think she’ll recover from this. It runs in our genetic code.”
The girls were kidnapped about 1 a.m. as they sat in two cars with male friends beneath a pair of giant water tanks on a scrub-covered hilltop in Quartz Hill, 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The Antelope Valley site is a popular hangout for local youth.
Eric Joshua Brown, 18, owned the stolen Bronco. Brown told reporters he was blindfolded, bound with duct tape and tied to a post as the man took Brooks.
“He just kept telling her to stay down, keep her head down, don’t look at him,” he said.
“He told me he was going to kill me but he didn’t want to,” Brown said.
Less than three hours after the attack, the first ever public alert issued under a new program in California triggered a manhunt that stretched from Utah to the Mexican border.
Television and radio warnings went out under a program called the California Child Safety Amber Network, named for a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped in 1996 and later found deaf sightings of the Bronco, including calls from a Kern County animal control officer, state highway workers and a gas station. At about 1 p.m., the SUV was spotted by a sheriff’s helicopter crew near Walker Pass, Kern County sheriff’s Cmdr. Chris Davis said.
Ratliff, accused of raping his 19-year-old stepdaughter, was charged with five counts of sexual assault in October 2001, but was never apprehended. Bail had been set at $3 million. Under California’s “three-strikes” law, he had faced life in prison if convicted.
A call placed to a home where Ratliff was listed was answered by someone who said “don’t call here anymore” and hung up.
Ratliff spent the last 13 years in and out of prison for burglary or possessing a controlled substance, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections.
Ratliff was paroled in July 2001, when he disappeared.
“He had been listed as wanted ever since,” Heimerich said.
He was suspected in the July 18 carjacking of a 65-year-old Robert Young in Las Vegas.
Arrangements were being made to reunite the girls with their parents.
“When I get to see her and hold her, then that’s when it’ll all be real,” Nadine Dyer said.
“That is the best news. We have to thank God and I’m sure their families are absolutely elated,” Gov. Gray Davis said at a news conference where he had been about to announce a $50,000 reward.
Authorities believe Ratliff stole a 1999 Saturn sedan from Roberta and James Young in Las Vegas. The car apparently got a flat tire and was left behind at the abduction scene. The man apparently poured gasoline over the car and unsuccessfully tried to torch it, authorities said.
“We’re very thankful those girls are all right. Very thankful,” Mrs. Young said at a news conference in Las Vegas.
“It’s so good they got away,” her husband added.
“I really knew, truthfully, that that could have been me, could have been my husband,” she said.
The carjacker appthen pulled a gun, stole about $260 from the couple and drove off.