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Breaking News

Florida Law Enforcement Officials Hold News Conference on Investigation Into Kidnapping of 10-Year-Old Girl

Aired March 10, 2000 - 10:00 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to get right to Gainesville, Florida where we expect a news conference to begin any moment. This on the return of 10-year-old Jessica Rodriguez.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for coming to our news conference this morning.

I'd like to introduce our speakers behind me. First will be Sheriff David Turner. He is the sheriff of Gilchrist County. This is Deputy Director -- our regional director -- Ken Tucker from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. And everybody knows Jennifer. This is Jessica's mother.

And from this point on, I'm going to turn this part of the news conference over to Sheriff Turner. And as we had stated in our bulletin, we're just going to go down in that order. So, again, Sheriff David Turner.

SHERIFF DAVID TURNER, GILCHRIST COUNTY, FLORIDA: Just want to start out by saying we all feel so joyous because of Jessica's return. It's been a happy reunion and the family appreciates all the consideration that's been paid and all the resources that's been made available to them.

Jennifer will address those with you. I know that's what you're here for is to hear her talk. She's going to talk about that reunion and go into details.

We have received additional information. We're developing that. We're working on it. Several hot leads have been developed. We've got -- additional personnel has been brought in and we're following up on those leads as expediently as we can. We hope to have new information in the future to be able to pass on to you.

We want to encourage the community to continue with those tips with that information. Keep it flowing -- the 800 number at my office and of course the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. Keep those tips coming in. They are proving to be very beneficial and all.

At this point, let me go ahead and turn it over to Jennifer. I know that's why you come -- to hear her speak, so...

JENNIFER GRAHAM, JESSICA'S MOTHER: I want to thank everybody. I want to thank the media for putting it all out there and bringing my daughter back home to me because everybody's been a very, very big help letting it be known that she was missing. I also want to thank my community because it is so grateful that everybody pulled together and came through, and they never gave up. They were just out there. They really tried their best. They've done their hardest. And most of all, I want to tell the man that had Jessica, thank you for dropping my daughter off safely. And she's doing great. She's playing. She's so happy. She's wonderful.

TURNER: Done good, done good. Stand right here. They're going to ask you some questions.

KEN TUCKER, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT: OK, just to add a little bit more as it relates to the investigation, we did get the opportunity last night to talk with Jessica briefly. She's been through quite an ordeal. We were not able to interview her for a long period of time, but what I can say is, in that interview, she is a very strong, a very bright young lady. She has provided us with a lot of details that are going to aid us in pursuing this investigation. We've brought a lot of investigators in to follow up on those leads and make sure that we're doing everything we can to find the suspect.

One of the thing we do want to do -- and we provided the description of the suspect. Don't have a lot to add to that today except to repeat it again, that he is a white male, 30-40 years of age, approximately 6', brown hair and balding on the top of his head.

We have the vehicle description, a dark green SUV with a tan or brown interior. And, you know, we are not 100 percent sure, but there's reasonable belief that that sports utility vehicle is a Jeep Cherokee.

We -- based on the interview and a lot of the information that we received from Jessica, we're focusing our efforts in the Gainesville and the outlying communities at this point in time. Now, that's not to say if we develop information that takes us out of that area we won't go there. But right now, we're focusing on that area based on the information that she's provided to us.

We, you know, are not sharing those details at this time because they're very critical as it relates to conducting interviews and following the investigation. We are asking the citizens in that area that I just related, if somewhere out there is someone that fits this physical description, they're driving a green Jeep, they probably haven't been at work this week, they've probably been acting a little strangely. If you know someone that's -- that meets this description, we're asking you, give us a call. You know, it may not be the person, but the worst thing that's going to happen is we're going to go out and talk to them a little bit and be reassured that we've got that one behind us. So we're encouraging people, call us with that kind of information.

QUESTION: We've been shown that composite, you know, this week and were you able to show that composite to Jessica and have her reflect on whether not that's -- how accurate it is, or will there be a new composite issued? TUCKER: We are going to pursue a new composite with her. And for that reason, we would not want to show her that one. We're trying to make sure she does not see that composite, so -- but like I said, last night she was a very, very tired little girl. She wanted to go home and be with her mother and her family, and we saw that, you know, that was the thing to do last night. As she recuperates and gets rested, you know, we'll be going back and getting that kind of information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, go ahead, right here.

QUESTION: Do you have witnesses other than Jessica who can pinpoint who this person is if they see him again?

TUCKER: Well, I mean, the sisters were there. We've had other witness that have caught glimpses, but obviously our best eyewitness is going to be Jessica.

QUESTION: You mentioned that whoever this person may be might have been out of work recently. Is that to say that you have leads that indicate whoever this person is has residence in this area; in other words, wasn't just passing through this area when they (OFF- MIKE)?

TUCKER: Well, I mean, we -- like I said, a lot of detailed information came from Jessica that leads us to believe we're looking at someone in this immediate vicinity.

QUESTION: Who makes a residence here?


QUESTION: Is that because they knew the back roads or they knew the area? What leads you to believe that?

TUCKER: I don't really want to get into -- you know, it's information that came from our eyewitness.

QUESTION: Given what you know, is it possible this man (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

TUCKER: I could only speculate on that. You know, if you talk to the profilers, they'll tell you, in some of these instances, that's exactly what the suspect wants. In others, it may just be he's not realizing the mistakes that he's making.

QUESTION: Did you find anything useful in your review of the Wal-Mart surveillance tapes (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

TUCKER: That's an investigative lead that we're not ready to disclose at this point.


QUESTION: Where were they and what did this guy do with her? TUCKER: Again, that's information that we're not ready to release at this point. Those are the details that we don't want to get into right now.

QUESTION: It is so rare to have a stranger abduction, if it turns out this happened. Do you have any speculation or any reason why this guy decided to let Jennifer go?

TUCKER: And it would be entirely speculation. I shared with Jennifer earlier today -- I think her pleas that the media assisted in getting out there may have contributed significantly to that.


QUESTION: In 1993, another little girl was abducted in her driveway kind of matching the same description of Jessica, Jennifer -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) her name was. Is there any similarity? Are you looking at these two cases as possibly being related?

TUCKER: As far as related, right now we're trying to focus on this. That would be absolutely something that we would look at. The similarities are there in that it was a little girl, it was from a school bus stop. But beyond that, there doesn't appear to be many more.

QUESTION: I understand you guys don't want to release information about where she's been and things like that, but has Jessica been able to give you clues as to where she's been?

TUCKER: Yes. That is what I was trying to relate a moment ago, that we did get a chance to talk with her very, very briefly last night, and she was able to provide us with some information that we feel confident is going to generate some very good investigative leads. I feel very strongly that we will identify a suspect and make an arrest in this case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ken, right here.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if Jessica was cared for? Was she fed, did he let her sleep -- I mean the general treatment over these last few days?

TUCKER: Again, when we found her, she was in very good spirits and health, but I'd really -- I really don't want to get into those details.

QUESTION: Can you reveal just what the circumstances were in which she was let go at the Wal-Mart? Any more details there?

TUCKER: Beyond -- at this point, the suspect did pull up, drop her off, then he departed and she went in and made contact with someone.

QUESTION: Did she say how much time she spent inside this SUV versus at a location?

TUCKER: We have a lot of information in that area but, again, I don't want to release those details.

QUESTION: Based on the profile you have, can you tell us whether this guy might strike again? Is that a serious consideration?

TUCKER: Absolutely. I mean, you know, it -- you never know the mental state of these individuals. And I couldn't even speculate as to when, but, you know, when you look at the statistical data on these types of offenders, yes, they do repeat.

TURNER: We feel like with the aid of the -- or, the media and all, that our community -- community all the surrounding counties are at a point of heightened awareness. We're trying to also, besides conducting the investigation and trying to pursue it, which we hope with the additional information that's been -- been gained and the tips that are continuing to come in -- that's why we want to keep them coming in -- that we're also trying to focus on our schools. And we've come and done programs with our bus drivers. We're trying to really ensure that this doesn't happen again, and we want our community out there diligently working for us. We don't want them to fill a false sense of security now that Jason -- Jessica's back. So, we do want to solicit the community's input, and...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you talked about several hot leads that you have in this case. For people in this area, who fear that certainly somebody who has the capability to be violent might be out there, tell us how optimistic you are you think you're going to capture this person in the short term.

Well, of course without getting into any details, I'm very optimistic, just like I was the other day in telling you that I was very optimistic that we was going to get Jessica back. I can tell you I feel the same way. I feel that we are very, very close. And with the tips, the information, we're making the case. Jessica's home, Jessica's safe. She's with her family, with her loved ones. And we are -- with are pursuing those, and we are trying to -- and that's why we're not wanting to give out a lot of details at this point, just because we're moving on to the next step with this arrest and with the judicial process and what comes next. So, we're trying to move on in that aspect.

QUESTION: Was Jessica able to see her mother on TV? Do we know if the kidnappers saw the public plea for help?

TURNER: I do not have that information.

TUCKER: This gentleman (OFF-MIKE), you had a question?

QUESTION: Yes. Besides the Gainesville area, are you looking at other places around, like other states, for example, the surrounding area...

TURNER: I can tell you that we've had tips from several other states, we've had tips from all over the state of Florida. We have aggressively been pursuing those. We have had agents -- as most of you know, we've got the FBI involved, FDLE, several other law enforcement agencies from outside the state of Florida, as well as within the state. Just like you, the media, tremendous outpouring, and we feel very confident in the direction we're going.

TUCKER: One second. I want to go ahead -- just one point of clarification on the sports utility vehicle. We are right now tending to focus on an older model, somewhere '88 to '92 year model.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) and I hate to bring it up, but can -- was she molested? Is this...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we've already covered those kinds of questions already about that issue. We're asking not to (OFF-MIKE).

Next question?

QUESTION: If Jennifer could step back to the podium and share some more of your thoughts, how you're feeling. I know it must have been like a Christmas rolled into one last night.

GRAHAM: When Officer Turner came in and told me that we were going to get Jessica, I was jumping out of my skin. I was so happy. I do, I really do. I want to thank the community for really pulling together on this, because without your help, I tell you, I don't know, but I'm very, very thankful that Jessica is back home with her family. She is -- her sisters, everybody crying tears of joy. She's got a chicken, it's called Chicken Little, and he ain't been himself but when he -- when she got home, he done a little dance all around the thing. But she's doing really good.

QUESTION: What is the first thing she said to you?

GRAHAM: I missed you.

QUESTION: What's the first thing you said to her?

GRAHAM: I love you.


TUCKER: Go ahead, right here.

QUESTION: Can you give us another idea of what's she's been doing this morning? Did she get up, have a meal, did she play, what?

GRAHAM: She woke up -- she woke up when I woke up, and right away she was just playing with her cousin.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) during one of your televised briefs you mentioned that perhaps it would be within this person's ability to be compassionate, to drop off and let her go or even leave her in a store. In light of the way that she came back to you, how effective do you think that is? Do you think maybe that person might have been watching?

GRAHAM: Yes, I do. And the Good Lord answered all of our prayers, because he was listening.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, your question?

QUESTION: In the event of an arrest (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's an arrest here in Alachua County, he'll be taken to the Alachua County jail. Depending on the county that that person is arrested in, we'll have to go to that county.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: In and around Gainesville, how many investigators do you have working (OFF-MIKE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ken, how many investigators?

TUCKER: Excuse me?


TUCKER: I -- in, you know, when you say how many are involved on a full-time basis I can tell you there are over 50. On a part-time basis, that number at any point in time could go over 80, 90 people that are working on this case.

KAGAN: We've been listening to law enforcement officials in the state of Florida, also the mother of a girl who's been missing the last three days. The little girl, 10-year-old Jessica Rodriguez, was abducted three days ago from an area northwest of Gainesville. She reappeared yesterday in a Wal-Mart 25 miles from her home, and she appears to be fine.

Today, we heard from investigators who say they are still looking for the man who allegedly abducted Jessica. He is described as a white male in his 30s, six-feet tall, with brown hair. They are currently working on a new composite, because investigators have been able to talk with the 10-year-old and get more information on what has happened in the last three days.

Also, her mother coming out to thank the media and all that -- all the people who have supported the family in their time as they wait for Jessica.


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