A 12-year-old Evergreen girl reported missing Tuesday morning was found safe just 12 hours later south of Las Vegas in the company of two men, one of whom she met on the Internet.
"The FBI are the ones that came up with her for us," Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said Tuesday night. "We've been working with them all day."
Jasmine Walker apparently left her home sometime Monday night or early Tuesday morning with Edgard "Eddie" Le, a 27-year-old man from Escondido, Calif. Jasmine and Le had established a connection through Facebook and phone calls.
Jasmine is a sixth-grade student at Somers Middle School.
Her disappearance prompted an Amber Alert to be issued, since it was believed Jasmine and Le were heading to California in Le's 1996 Honda Accord.
She was found by federal agents in a vehicle along with Le and another man shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday. Curry said he believes they were found near the border of Nevada and California.
Both men are in custody, but no details were available yet on the second man. They could face local charges of custodial interference or kidnapping, depending on the details of the case and the decision by the Flathead County Attorney's Office. The U.S. Department of Justice also could file charges against the men.
Jasmine's mother, April Hindahl, and her friends and family endured a tense day wondering where her daughter was.
She said when she learned Jasmine had been located, her first thoughts were: "Oh my god, they found her, she's safe. Can I go pick her up?"
Jasmine can't come home just yet since the FBI still is working on the case, but as of 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, her father already had booked a flight to Las Vegas for today.
Hindahl said Le is being held on a $250,000 bond and a warrant is being put together for the other man.
"I have to give so many thanks to the Amber Alert system and the sheriff's department here for acting so fast on this," Hindahl said. "Also the FBI, the Las Vegas Police Department and the Escondido Police Department, which worked with us also. Just a big huge thanks to everybody that helped with searching for her."
The drama began to unfold when Hindahl went into Jasmine's room Tuesday morning to wake her up for school and found her bed was empty. She reported her missing at approximately 6:30 a.m.
Hindahl said she discovered her daughter's connection with Le when Jasmine's stepmother, Marie Walker, went to the Facebook account of one of her friends and discovered Jasmine had listed her age as 17 instead of 12 to get around the rule that no one under 13 is supposed to use the social network.
Walker found Facebook conversations between Jasmine and Le.
Walker's husband — Jasmine's father — tracked his phone records back to January and found the two have been talking on the phone since then.
When Jasmine turned up missing Tuesday morning, Hindahl found out her daughter had sneaked into her room while she was sleeping and taken her cell phone, calling Le twice during the night.
Curry said the Sheriff's Office has handled similar cases before, although he couldn't remember any with similar ages.
"In this case, probably, based upon the ages, this may be getting a little more attention and a little more work," Curry said. "If a 16-year-old ran away with a 17-year-old it would probably get a different response. Certainly we investigate everything as appropriate."
Curry said social media have changed the landscape of child protection.
"Ten or 15 years ago or 20 years ago, you had to worry about predators preying upon your children from within your town or neighborhood," he said. "Now you have to worry about them preying from a national or international level."
Hindahl did not mince words in her opinion:
"Facebook is a predator's playground."
Curry urged parents to be more involved in their children's lives, particularly their use of social media.
"Your children should have no right to privacy on their social networking sites," he said. "You should have the ability to look at your kids' stuff and you should do that frequently. Unfortunately, kids don't always possess adult judgment, which is why they still live at home. As parents, it's important that we stay on top of monitoring what our kids are doing online."
Hindahl said relatives called her all day Tuesday offering their support. Her mother, Juli, spent the day with her at her Evergreen home. Hindahl's friends also called and posted information about Jasmine online in an effort to help find her.
She described her daughter as a cheery, lovable girl who loves to play basketball. Jasmine loves everything western, Hindahl said, from horses to country music and her Ariat cowboy boots. She especially likes teenage country singer Scotty McCreery, who won the most recent American Idol competition.
Hindahl said Jasmine is mostly a homebody, enjoying playing games on her Nintendo Wii and her tablet computer. She also enjoys playing outside with her two golden Labradors, Slate and Stone.
"She's very happy and just wants to be friends with everybody," Hindahl said. "She's a loving, friendly, wonderful little girl."
Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edgard "Eddie" Le