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Kidnapped Texas girl safe after suspect kills self

Tim Henry carries his daughter, Leah, as they leave the Kerr County Sheriff's Department on Friday
Tim Henry carries his daughter, Leah, as they leave the Kerr County Sheriff's Department on Friday  

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- An 11-year-old Houston girl kidnapped three days ago bolted from her abductor's car in a daring escape Friday and into the arms of an approaching sheriff's deputy.

Her abductor, Gary Dale Cox, then shot and killed himself, authorities said.

"She was very brave, very composed," said Kerr County Sheriff's Sgt. David Billeiter. "She's a precious little girl."

The abduction of Leah Henry on Tuesday set off a two-state hunt as the FBI and local authorities linked her kidnapping to that of two other girls, both of whom were released by their kidnapper. Using information from them, officials had identified a suspect and were zeroing in on a location east of San Antonio.

Billeiter, responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle, pulled over the kidnapper's car about six miles west of Kerrville, which is about 50 miles northwest of San Antonio.

The suspect left the driver-side door open and walked around to the passenger door. But before he could get there, Leah, "thinking extremely sharp," said Kerr County Sheriff W.R. "Rusty" Hierholzer, scooted over to the driver's side, jumped out and ran to Billeiter.

"This is where her bravery came in. She knew what to do, she ran to me," said Billeiter.

He put her in his patrol car and as he sped away to take her to safety, he heard a gunshot. Cox, 48, had killed himself.

Leah Henry was kidnapped on Tuesday
Leah Henry was kidnapped on Tuesday  

"I consider myself very fortunate and her very fortunate. It could have been a real bad situation," said Billeiter. "He could have come out of the car firing and I'm grateful he didn't. I'm grateful that I didn't have to fire on him."

The sergeant said he had pulled all the information on Leah's case off the Internet that morning and had promised his wife he would catch the perpetrator. But he said he was almost fooled by the suspect because his car has been painted a different color and had different license tags from the report.

"He'd taken all identification off of it. The only thing that said Mazda was the hub cap," he said.

Authorities found a stun gun and a badge of some sort inside the car.

Cox, a convicted sex offender, is suspected in previous kidnappings of young girls in New Orleans and San Antonio. Both of those girls were released safely.

It was tips from those victims that helped federal and state authorities to concentrate on the San Antonio area. The two girls gave a similar description of their kidnapper and remembered highway signs and how long they were on the road while being driven to a hunting cabin in a rugged area.

Authorities are now searching that cabin in an effort to determine if there were other victims and if Cox had any co-conspirators.

Authorities say Cox shot and killed himself shortly after the kidnapped girl bolted from his car
Authorities say Cox shot and killed himself shortly after the kidnapped girl bolted from his car  

"We feel comfortable that it's the same subject for all three (kidnappings)," said FBI special agent Roderick L. Beverly.

In addition, he said, "I think that based on what we see that we think that he's good for kidnappings in addition to these three," and possibly as many as six. He added, "We have indications that he's operated not only in Texas and Louisiana but also further out West."

Cox's criminal record in Texas included at least three sexual offenses involving girls ages 12 to 14, according to The Associated Press. He registered in 1999 as a sex offender, but his current address was unknown. State records listed him as an absconded sex offender.

"I am so thrilled to see her again, to see her smile, to see her laugh," the girl's father, Tim Henry, said during a news conference with law enforcement officers. "I'm just thrilled and I thank you all."

At an earlier news conference in Houston, Leah's mother, Linda, said the young girl didn't "sound her confident self, but she's OK, she's talking and she sounded very timid, perhaps scared, maybe exhausted."

"We're taking her some stuffed animals that are her favorites."

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Federal Bureau of Investigation

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