Ohio girl found alive, bound; no word on 3 others
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (AP) – A 13-year-old girl missing for days was found bound and gagged but alive in a basement Sunday, and authorities hoped a man charged with kidnapping her might lead them to her mother, brother and another woman who disappeared with her.
Matthew J. Hoffman, 30, was arrested at his Mount Vernon home, where Sarah Maynard was found, Knox County Sheriff David Barber said. He said the girl was hospitalized in good condition but would give no details and did not say if she had been sexually abused.
Barber did not say what led investigators to Hoffman’s home, which is about 10 miles from the home of Sarah’s family, but he said Hoffman’s mother and stepfather own a house within walking distance of Sarah’s, and that Hoffman listed it as a second address.
Barber said authorities hoped Hoffman would give them information leading to Sarah’s mother, Tina Herrmann, her 10-year-old brother, Kody, and Herrmann’s 41-year-old friend Stephanie Sprang.
The four vanished Wednesday in a case that was all the more alarming because an unusual amount of blood was found at Herrmann’s home in Howard.
“We were hopeful that we would find more than one” of the missing people in Hoffman’s house, Barber said. “Our information was definite that it was most likely that Sarah was going to be in that house.”
Authorities believe the girl had been “under the control” of Hoffman since Wednesday, when she and her brother last attended school, the sheriff said. He did not know if Hoffman was connected to either Herrmann or Sprang, but said he is not the ex-boyfriend of either woman.
“At this time, whether he’s connected to the family or whether he connected himself to the family … a lot of that remains to be seen as the investigation continues,” Barber said.
Authorities had talked to the girl but would not release any details because the investigation is ongoing, Barber said.
Hoffman was charged with kidnapping, and Barber said more charges are expected. Neighbors has said they saw a body bag being taken from Hoffman’s home about 40 miles north of Columbus, but the sheriff said that was “absolutely false.”
“We have no one that we’re aware of who is deceased,” Barber said. “So we’re still treating this as a missing persons case.”
Authorities blocked off about a half block on either side of the home as they investigated early Sunday afternoon, keeping people from entering or leaving about a half dozen homes. But by late afternoon, the only sign of investigative activity was red and white evidence tape sealing the front door of the home closed.
The two-story house with tan vinyl siding, green shutters and a large television antenna on the roof sits in a lower-middle-income neighborhood with two bars within a block away. Holly grows through the weathered slats of the porch. A sheet covered one window, and blinds were pulled down on the rest.
Dawna Davis, 35, who lives next door to Hoffman, said she told her children to stay indoors when he was out. She said he moved in alone about a year ago and that a girlfriend lived with him temporarily with her son until about a month ago.
“He would sit and listen to us up in a tree. He had a hammock and he would sit there and listen to us,” she said. “He was just different. He was very different.”
Davis said Hoffman did tree trimming work and had built a fire Wednesday night in his backyard, where there was a mound of ashes Sunday with tree parts on it. She said he walked to a nearby park with a lake almost every day and was a “nature person” who collected leaves.
Herrmann was reported missing Wednesday when she did not show up for work at a local Dairy Queen. Barber has said blood indicating an injury had been found in her home, where Sprang’s vehicle was in the driveway.
Herrmann’s pickup truck had been found Thursday night near the Kenyon College campus, leading to a lockdown at the school.
Hoffman was being held in the county jail, where personnel would not comment on whether he had an attorney. A bond hearing was expected to be held Monday. Attempts to reach relatives of Hoffman and of Sarah were unsuccessful Sunday.