Missing girl found with Ohio man

January 28, 2013

A missing 14-year-old North Strabane Township girl was found Sunday night by police in Columbus, Ohio, and the man whom she was with is facing rape charges filed by that department.

North Strabane police Lt. Dan Levi said the girl apparently went to Ohio to meet Stephen Cox, 26, of Columbus, with whom she has had an Internet relationship since the summer. The girl reportedly climbed out a master bedroom window of her home on South Lakeside Drive early last Thursday and allegedly stole her mother’s 2002 Chevrolet Suburban. She then drove to Columbus.

The girl was driving the Suburban erratically on a Columbus road and was stopped by police. Cox was a passenger in the vehicle.

While investigating her disappearance, police learned from a neighbor that a man driving a green Chevrolet Cavalier with temporary Ohio registration had knocked on the girl’s door Wednesday but no one was home. The girl’s family checked the home telephone for the numbers of any calls the girl may have received. They discovered a number they didn’t recognize.

“T-Mobile was contacted because of the exigent circumstances, which gave us Cox’s name, “ Levi said. “They were able to ping the cellphone and determined that one of those came from a tower in the Bridgeville area, which confirmed he had been here.”

Columbus police went to Cox’s home, finding the green Cavalier parked outside. He told investigators the girl had gone to his work, but was no longer there.

When the girl was found, she was taken to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Police also conducted a forensic interview with the girl. Columbus police will charge Cox with rape-related charges.

Levi had praise for the efforts of police in Columbus tracking down the girl.

“The girl doesn’t realize how lucky she is to have been stopped when she was,” Levi said Monday. “We were very concerned for her safety.”

The 14-year-old was charged by North Strabane police in a juvenile allegation with theft of a motor vehicle for allegedly stealing her mother’s vehicle, which police said was damaged. She was being detained in Ohio on the charge.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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