(CODY, Wyo.) — A man charged with kidnapping and assaulting 11-year-old girl in Cody, Wyo., was arrested over the weekend in Montana. Police Monday gave new details on how the victim was able to make her way out of the woods in freezing temperatures at night and find Good Samaritans who brought her to safety.
James Laske, 44, was one of the men who found the girl in the forest while out hunting. “The man upstairs had a big role in this, we were her last hope, her God-send,” Laske told ABC News.
Police say Jesse Paul Speer lured the girl into his white Toyota 4-Runner on Oct. 8, saying he needed assistance finding a missing puppy.
Speer, 39, of Manhattan, Mont., some 200 miles from the crime scene, was arrested on Saturday in Bozeman through a joint effort with the Cody Police Department, the FBI and the Park County Sherriff’s office. He is being held in Montana, awaiting extradition back to Wyoming on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and felony use of a firearm. He is being held on $2 million bond.
“This has had quite an impact on our community,” said Perry Rockvam, chief of the Cody Police Department. Police were able to link Speer’s vehicle to the crime scene though surveillance tapes of local businesses near where the abduction occurred.
According to Rockvam, the girl initially offered to help Speer find his “missing puppy” but became reluctant as she approached the car. He then pulled out a gun and forced her inside, driving her to a nearby church, blindfolding her and binding her hands. Telling her to keep her head down, Rockvam said that Speer beat her in the head with a gun whenever she tried to lift her head.
Police say that he eventually drove her up to Carter Mountain in Cody, assaulted her, and dropped her off in the middle of the forest, putting a cloth bag over her head and telling her to count to 50 before she turned around.
It was a bitterly cold night, only a few degrees above freezing. She was dressed only in leggings, tennis shoes and a thin jacket.
Luckily for her, Laske, of Michigan, and Shane Larsen, of Cody, were out hunting elk that blustery night with their two sons.
“It was cold,” Laske recalled. “And we had on gloves and jackets and boots.”
As they were driving down the mountain, headed back home, around 8 that evening, they noticed something odd through the trees in that pitch-black forest.
“At first coming up on her, I thought that it was someone exercising. Then we got closer and I said, ‘This is a little girl!'” Laske told ABC News.
Their headlights broke through the darkness and Larsen called out to her asking if she needed help. She replied yes and hastily got into the car.
“She could have hidden, just getting in the car was her greatest leap of courage,” Laske said.
She hopped in the back with their two sons, both around her age, and Laske said that the relief on her face was palpable. They gave her the phone to call her mother and then phoned the police. None of them knew anything about the abduction or the Amber Alert that police had issued for her.
Laske described her demeanor as flitting between being emotional and distraught while speaking to her mother to light-hearted, even curious as she asked them about their hunting process.
They met up with police and the ambulance down the mountain and left her with authorities. She is back with her family now.
Laske is a serviceman in the Air Force and is stationed in Michigan. But for a man who has been in the military for 26 years and traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, he says that nothing could have prepared him for what he found that night.
“I instantly put my girls in her shoes…couldn’t imagine how a human being would do that to a child,” he said.
Though he says that he and Larsen were “her God-send” and now says that he considers her a God-daughter, he credits the victim for being her own hero.
“She saved her own life by not giving up…We just had an opportunity to become a part of her life,” he said.
Authorities say that additional charges are being filed. Speer was scheduled to appear before a judge Monday.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire