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Press Conference on Rescue of Two Teenage Girls

Aired August 2, 2002 - 12:59   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Two teenaged girls who survived a terrifying 12 hours with their armed captors are safe at home with their families today. The girls were rescued after a desert shootout in Southern California yesterday, just minutes before authorities believe the girls would have been killed.

CNN's James Hattori joins us now live from Monterey Park -- James.


As you mentioned, at the outset, we are expecting a press conference from the sheriff substation in Lancaster. We're at the headquarters in Monterey Park right now, about a case that essentially is wrapped up, or closed, except for the paperwork, and of course the trauma that the two kidnapped girls and the family still must deal with.

Of course the best news is that those girls are now back with their families. They were transported from the Kern county area where the kidnapping case ended yesterday back to their homes in Lancaster last night. Once was transported by aircraft. Another driven with their families. That was about 100 miles south of where the crime occurred, or ended rather. We are told they are in relatively good condition, considering their ordeal.

Now this all ended about 12 hours after it started, in a dry river bed in Kern County. After a car chase and a statewide manhunt, sheriff's deputies converged on the kidnapper, opening fire on the stolen Bronco after he apparently picked up a weapon. The girls were still in the vehicle. The girls -- rather the deputies managed to get them out unharmed. The suspect, 37-year-old Roy Ratliff, was killed.

Now authorities are crediting the so called Amber Alert system, which is a rapid information system sent out to TV, radio stations and freeway signs, which alert the public to be on lookout for the suspect vehicle. And in this case we have word that at least two confirmed sightings were based on those alerts. And that information obviously very critical to getting the response quickly, and may, in fact, Kyra have saved the two girl's lives, because, as you say, the deputies arrived on the scene by what authorities believe to be minutes from the point where the suspect was going to kill them -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And, James, we're going to take it right live to the press conference. Now perfect timing James Hattori. Thank you.


CAPT. TOM PIGOTT, L.A. CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Today is a new day. We are relaxing much more than we were yesterday, with the successful conclusion of this ordeal, of this event that unfolded yesterday. Let me just state initially, that with respect to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, our investigation is continuing into this incident, into the kidnapping and to the event subsequent to that.

Our detectives from headquarters detective division are working actively with the Kern County Sheriff's Department to conclude this investigation. And although there's no -- obviously no prosecution in the matter, we are compelled by our own policies to do a complete and thorough investigation of the entire incident. That is ongoing at this time.

The family of the two young girls, as well as the young men, are attempting right now to bring some sense of normalcy back to their lives, to recover from this incident. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is actually assisting them in that.

At this time, I would like to extend my personal appreciation and that of on the sheriff's department to the media for their active involvement in the coverage of this entire incident and the role that they played, and as well as that of the community.

We have stated many times, often, that law enforcement cannot accomplish what they need to do alone. We need the active support, not the passive support, of the both the community and the media, and I think in this instance, it was classic example of what can happen when that does occur.

I again want to extend my compliments -- excuse me -- to the allied law enforcement agencies that assisted us, both local, state and federal, in this combined effort. We all worked very, very well and coordinated our efforts, with no duplication of effort, no loss of movement, and,of course, the end result was that we were able to gather a lot of information and act on timely fashion.

At this time, I would like to introduce Lieutenant Andrea Whitmore from the Lancaster office of the California Highway Patrol who would like to make some comments.

ANDREA WHITMORE, CALIF. HIGHWAY PATROL: Good morning. And thank you for being here today.

I'm happy to report that when the CHP was asked to assist in the apprehension of the suspect in the location of the young girls, that we were able to mobilize officers from the Newhall are, the Antelope Valley area, undercover officers, and area units, senior volunteers, to go out and be the eyes and ears and help look for these kids.

And as the highway patrol, we can also mobilize the resource of Caltrans by using the changeable message signs to get that information to commuters out there, in addition to what they'll be hearing on the radio. The highway patrol stands ready to help any allied agencies that ask for our assistance in getting that information to our beat officers and to the citizens through the changeable message signs. So we're thankful that the girls were find and we were able to assist.

PIGOTT: I would like to introduce assemblymen George Runner.


You know, 18 months ago, when we introduced the Amber Alert in the state of California, little did we know that it would have to be used, and successfully, in my own community. You know, there's no doubt in my mind the media in getting the word out played the most incredible role of saving two young ladies. And so I certainly am very appreciative of the works that was done in that. And I think the splendid job of communicating that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department did in getting their word out, I think, along with great reactions from the CHP and others, made a huge difference in this case.

There's no doubt in my mind we actually have the legislation up before the Senate Committee this coming Tuesday, that there's no doubt in my mind what we must see is Amber Alert done statewide. We need correct protocols to be put in place, so that again, we are able to save lives. And I'm convinced this is a way to do it.

Grateful for those who participated and made this work. We are excited about the fact that lives were saved.

Thank you.

PIGOTT: I would like to introduce at this time the mayor of the city of Lancaster, Frank Roberts.

MYR. FRANK ROBERTS, LANCASTER, CALIFORNIA: The community is anxious to get back into its normal mode. This is a loving community. This is a community full of faith-based organizations that keep families in tact, and this kind of notoriety isn't our most favorable kind.

However, we have to thank the community, and the community came through in as much as even the Los Angeles County offered a $10,000 reward. Both cities, Lancaster offered $10,000 reward and Mike Antonovicz (ph) was kind enough to make some statements about that. In fact, he was in town, and that worked out real well.

The point of the matter is, community and media, you folks, did a great job, I believe, in getting the word out. And we're having a train-by. We have fly-bys, because we are the aerospace valley, and we have train-bys because we have the train.

So, at any rate, but I think it's time to get back into the healing mode. Again, the people of this community that elected me want me to make certain we get back to our normal way of life in this Antelope Valley. We have a great life. This is a community that believes in quality of life for individuals and especially families. So thank you so much for your aid, the cooperation that I observed, and I've observed a lot of activity on the part of police, and sheriff's and all of the other groups. They came together. They cooperated fully, and that's the reason we have two lives saved that otherwise might not be on this Earth at this point in time. Thank you so very much for your activity.

I think we're working that out. Actually the reports are, as you know, that it did not come from any particular private individual. So we'll have to -- we'll work that out.

QUESTION: There have been reports earlier today coming from sheriff's officials apparently that the families -- at least one family is very upset that the report of a sexual assault was disclosed. Do you have any information on that?

PIGOTT: I have no information other than what you have heard also. I have not spoken to any members of family. Again, our detectives are them. To put it very succinctly, we are not going to -- I am not going to address any aspects of what occurred during the 12-hour ordeal. I think anyone who is following this event can certainly appreciate what these young ladies went through, but we're just simply not going to address any aspect of the ordeal, simply at this point would serve no useful purpose, as I can see.

There's going to be no prosecution in the matter, and it would simply just be to satisfy someone's morbid curiosity or appearing interest. So we won't go there.

QUESTION: One follow-up: what is your department's policy when comes to minor who has been sexually assaulted in a criminal case? Do you disclose that fact? Or is that a confidential fact?

PIGOTT: Generally, in our department, we would not disclose that information, but again, that's our department, and again, for policy statements, you need go straight to the office of the sheriff.

QUESTION: The "Los Angeles Times" says -- quote -- "the emergency alert system did not activate in a timely manner," said assemblymen George Runner. "Five hours is failure of the system," end of quote. You've seem to done an about-face this morning.

RUNNER: No, actually what made the alert work this time is that the perpetrator stayed in the area, and as a result of that, he was still in the area when the Amber Alerts went out and the news picked it up. The reality is, that it was actually he was still in the news media prior to the Amber alert being put out.

Let me make it very clear: "The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department communicated the information. It was done very early in the morning. The first alert was done after the media already had the information. It worked this time -- It worked this time, because the perpetrator stayed in the area. And so when it came on to the media the first alert came on, right before 7:00 a.m., he was still here. The concern that we have is that if he chose to go ahead and leave the area, he would have been far away by the time it was actually picked up. Yes. What the actual legislation that is moving forward is, it's the create a statewide program, mandatory on law enforcement to use, and creates the protocols, how it is that it's in place, who do you call, when do you do it? That's what really needs to be set up in the state of California.

We're actually taking a look at that right now. We feel like we'll have a handle on that by the time we are there on Tuesday. I think the key for us right now is that the alerts went out, they went when the perpetrator was still in area, and that made a world of difference in the safety of these young people.

That's one of our concerns, and, in fact, the governor's office, emergency services, when they put them out, I believe, after 7:00, actually put them on the air, there was no information that followed. The information that did go out in regards to an emergency alert was actually done by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, and that had correct information.

This would be the first time that it was used successfully in the state of California, yes.

PIGOTT: Clearly, they have been through an ordeal, and it would have been a difficult ordeal for any of us as mature adults to deal with. But it's my understanding, and I'm only getting this secondhand information, that they have the support of their families, the support of sheriff's department, and they're doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. But it's going to be a long road of recovery here for them, obviously. They've been through an ordeal.

The sheriff's department, no. I'm not -- I don't have information on exactly what counseling is being made available to them. And really, I would not want to go there and just speculate. But certainly, services will be made available in the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: Did the girls go with detective to the different locations?

PIGOTT: I have no information as to the investigation, the follow-up that's being done. Let's face it, yesterday focused on the rescue of the girls. That was our primary focus and objective. Today is on the investigation of the incident, and that is ongoing as we speak. So I'm not in a position to comment on any of that.

No, they're not here at the station.

I can't hear you, I'm sorry.

I cannot comment on any aspects of the shooting at all. That is being handled by Kern County Sheriff's Department. You have to contact them for those details.

PIGOTT: No, I have not. I do not have any information for you with regards to that. QUESTION: Have the families given you any indication that they may be willing to speak or hold some sort of public press conference or news conference today?

PIGOTT: I don't have any specific information to that regard. It's my understanding, the last time this issue was addressed to with that they were not interested in speaking to the media. That may change at some point in time, but that's the latest information that I have.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Is anybody concerned about secondary health issues, HIV positive, things like that? Is that being looked at?

PIGOTT: I'm certain that all of those aspects -- that's the reason why the girls were transported to the hospital. There's all sort of things that will be addressed during the course of the investigation. But again, I can't comment on specifically what is being done.

Yes, sir.

I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you at all.

I can't comment on any of his movements. I don't have that information. Again, that is all going to be covered in the course of the investigation by our detective division, and I just simply don't have that information for you, so I wouldn't want to speculate.

I'm sorry.

We had a lead on the suspect at that time, and that's why we were looking for that particular vehicle. But again, we're getting into aspects of the investigation that I don't want to address at this time.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

PHILLIPS: You've been listening to Captain Tom Pigott, Lancaster Sheriff's Department. Also the mayor of Lancaster, Frank Roberts, made a statement.

Basically, just a big thank you, crediting the media, and the community, and also the police for finding the two young, kidnapped teenagers. They are alive and well, and spending time with their families now, trying to recover from the incident. All in all, good news out of the Antelope Valley.




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