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'Turn yourself in,' mom tells kidnapper

The girl snatched from her driveway and released three days later is doing well at home, the family says.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2000


photo
[AP]
Jessica Rodriguez walks with her mother, Jennifer Graham on Friday.
GAINESVILLE -- The mother of a 10-year-old girl held captive for three days appealed to the "heart" and "compassion" of her daughter's kidnapper Friday and asked him to turn himself in.

"You've done one good deed. Now do two," said Jennifer Graham, whose girl was snatched Monday after getting off the school bus in front of her rural Gilchrist County home.

"We're all human, and we all have heart," she added. "He's got to have some compassion because he dropped her off."

Graham said her daughter Jessica Rodriguez woke up Friday morning after sleeping soundly beside her mother Thursday in their Blue Springs home. There were no nightmares to chase away, she said. Jessica spent part of Friday playing with her cousin and her pet chicken, named Chicken Little.

Authorities spoke confidently Friday about soon having a kidnapping suspect pinpointed.
"She slept in my room, but she slept good," Graham said. "(Today) she is great. She's playing; she's happy. She's wonderful. We're so thankful."

Jessica was dropped off at a Gainesville Wal-Mart 25 miles from her home Thursday and was well enough to walk into the store and tell employees who she was.

Police continued their search Friday evening for the kidnapper, who they now believe lives in or around Gainesville.

More than 50 officers from the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Alachua and Gilchrist sheriff's offices are working on the case full-time.

Gilchrist County Sheriff David Turner said officials have developed several "hot leads" since talking with Jessica, whom he described as an intelligent and strong little girl.

"We are very close," Turner said.

She provided investigators with enough details of her three day abduction for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office to release a detailed description of the man's home Friday evening.

Alachua County sheriffs officials said the man's house is a single-family dwelling in a residential area, with a metal utility shed in the back yard.

They said there is an in-ground swimming pool in the back yard and a wooden privacy fence surrounding the yard.

Investigators say Jessica was apparently held at the single family home for at least part of the abduction. The kidnapper dropped Jessica off in or near the Wal-Mart parking lot shortly before noon Thursday.

He might have stolen one or more cars while trying to elude police during the last several days.

"She was able to give us a lot of details and is a very strong and encouraging young witness," Sheriff Turner said on ABC's Good Morning America. "According to her, he was a stranger. She did not know him by name. Or could not believe that she had ever seen him previously."

Jessica has described him as a 6-foot white male in his mid- to late 30s with brown hair and eyes and a balding spot. He has a tattoo of a heart with a broken arrow on his left forearm.

He was last seen driving a 1988 to 1992 model green sport utility vehicle, possibly a Jeep Cherokee, with tan seats.

"Somewhere out there is a man who fits the description -- who is driving a Jeep, probably hasn't been to work in a few days and is acting a little strange," said Ken Tucker, regional director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "Somebody has seen him. I feel strongly we will develop a suspect and an arrest will be made."

Calls can be directed to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office at 1-352-955-2660.

Jessica's mother spent much of Friday talking to reporters. Looking spent and eager to eat a Subway sandwich for lunch, Graham concluded her 33rd interview, with CNN, shortly after 1:30 p.m.

Graham, 29, said she was happy to talk with reporters and credited her daughter's release, in part, to all the attention surrounding her capture.

"I want to thank everyone. It's amazing how many people are concerned," she said.

She directed another unexpected "thank you" to her daughter's kidnapper.

"I want to tell the man who held Jessica: Thank you for dropping my daughter off safely," she said, adding that she believed the man had seen her pleas on TV early Thursday.

Tucker said profilers from the FBI indicated that the man may want to be caught. He added, however, that any guess at this point is "pure speculation" and that the kidnapper may be unaware that he is making mistakes and leaving clues.

Graham has four children. The family lives in a small trailer on a 320-acre plot of land that belonged to Jessica's grandfather.

Jessica's bedroom is an open room next to the kitchen, where her mattress sits on the floor surrounded by toys, pictures and stickers. The kitchen cabinets are overflowing with food donated by community members.

Records show that Graham previously lived in Pasco and Pinellas counties. Graham said she moved to Gilchrist County to provide her children a good, "country" lifestyle that would allow them to grow up surrounded by nature, not crime.

"I was just looking for something better," she said.

Graham added that she and her daughter would need time to recover from the trauma of the kidnapping.

She said that since Jessica's return, she has been "very overprotective," constantly checking on her children.

She added that none of her kids will take the school bus from now on.

"We all tell ourselves that this could never happen to us," she said. "And we're wrong."

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