Fort Bragg soldier accused of snatching girl he met online

A soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has been charged after a 12-year-old girl was snatched from her bedroom and a ransom note left in her place.

James Murdoch Peele, 19, was arrested Sunday night in Fayetteville, where he was found with the girl. He has been charged with first-degree burglary and first-degree statutory rape, Craven County Sheriff Jerry Monette said during a Monday news conference.

Additional charges -- including one of kidnapping -- are likely to be filed against Peele, and those may include military charges, the sheriff said. The Army Times reported that Peele is a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Federal charges could also apply if Peele crossed state lines with the girl. Fayetteville is about an hour from the South Carolina state line.

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The Sheriff's Office received a 911 call around 6 a.m. Sunday from the girl's grandmother, who had gone into the girl's room to find the window open and a ransom note on the bed, Monette said. Detectives responded to the grandmother's home, located in the Carolina Pines area of Craven County, about two hours from Fayetteville and Fort Bragg.

State and federal agents were immediately brought into the investigation. That included agents from the FBI’s Cellular Analysis Survey Team, which Monette said was a particular boon to the investigative team.

"That is a cellphone tracking unit that was very beneficial to us in helping us resolve this case and locate this missing juvenile," Monette said.

The ransom note found on the girl's bed may have been put there to throw investigators off the real reason the girl was taken. Monette indicated Monday that Peele met the girl online, and the Army Times reported that investigators began looking at Peele as a potential suspect because he and the girl were Facebook friends.

"Now, I will tell you that this case is relevant to internet chat rooms and conversations, and we want to make people specifically aware that you need to try to be on top of what's going on with your child's chat information, on computers and also cellphones," Monette said. "We're living in a generation now where our young people are so much more literate and computer-savvy than the adults are."

Monette, who said the girl’s online friendship with Peele came as a shock to her family, said that in 2018, parents and guardians cannot respect their children’s privacy online.

"There are those out there that would seek to take advantage of our children," the sheriff said. "Many are deviant. Their intent and purpose are not for good things."

See the news conference with Craven County Sheriff’s Office authorities below.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, the U.S. Army CID, the U.S. Secret Service, the Craven County District Attorney’s Office and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were among the agencies participating in the hunt for Peele and the missing girl. Local law enforcement agencies across multiple states were also involved in the search.

"The coordination between all of the law enforcement agencies was exceptional," Monette said. "Our communication divisions got busy with the Amber Alert. They did a phenomenal job working with our folks and hand-in-hand, they were able to resolve this in a timely fashion, before something could have befallen this young lady."

Peele was returned to Craven County Monday and booked into the county jail in New Bern.

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