Lucky break saves abductee

A 9-year-old girl who was the victim of abduction and sexual assault by a middle-aged Manassas man likely had her life saved by three attentive children, a new computerized police system and solid detective work, police Chief Charlie T. Deane said at a press conference Monday.

A fortunate series of events and a strong attention to detail helped police arrest 48-year-old Franklin Ritenour, of 9751 Mock Orange Court, just hours after they say he kidnapped the girl while playing soccer behind a business at the Promenade Manassas Shopping Center near Battlefield Park on Saturday.

“I think we have a lot of heroes in this case,” Deane said Monday at the Gar-Field substation. “I am very pleased with the way this investigation went. Stranger abductions are rare and serious cases which often result in serious injury or death. Diligent police work has led to the safe recovery of the victim and apprehension of the suspect.”

Ritenour, who faces four charges, including a potential life sentence for object sexual penetration rape, was likely caught because of his determination to commit a crime, police said.

Two hours before he abducted the 9-year-old, Ritenour approached three girls, aged 10 to 14, just miles south on Sudley Manor Drive, Deane said. Ritenour reportedly asked the girls to help him read a map, but when the youths realized he was holding nothing but a blank piece of paper, they ran away from him.

While escaping, one of the girls was able to remember the suspect’s license plate number and a parent called the police with the information, which proved crucial in his eventual arrest.

“That probably saved the girl’s life,” said Officer Joe Robinson, who was sent out to investigate the initial complaint. “It’s amazing that they remembered the tag number. Even adults are often off a little bit.”

Hours later, the two children who were with the girl at the time of the abduction identified the vehicle, a 1998 white GMCpickup. A lookout was issued, and Robinson made the connection.

Then, the department caught its first break.

Later in the evening, Robinson happened to come across Ritenour’s truck as it turned onto Balls Ford Road. When Ritenour saw the flashing police lights, he shoved the girl out of his car and fled.

Detective Dave Fischer, who is handling the investigation, said that the girl was shaken but appears to be OK.

While another officer was attending to the girl, Robinson continued his pursuit. But at the intersection of Ashton Avenue and Sudley Manor Drive, his squad car was slammed into by another vehicle, and Ritenour was able to get away.

But yet again, good fortune shone upon the police.

Not far from the accident, Officer Wade Baughan saw a car driving suspiciously. When he ran its license plate number on one of the department’s Mobile Data Computers, a networked system that allows officers to run checks and message each other from their own cars, Baughan found that the owner’s listed address was the same as that of Ritenour.

“She was a relative [of the suspect],” Deane said. “The suspect had called the individual on a cell phone from a wooded area and wanted to be picked up.

“We obtained that information,” Deane said, without clarifying how.

Sgt. Jacquie Walker disguised herself in the woman’s jacket and took the woman’s car to where Ritenour was camped out.

Upon seeing the car, he emerged from the woods and was arrested without incident, police said.

“I would say that this is a perfect use of the MDC system,” said Javid Elahi, the police’s computer specialist. “It was one of the reasons that this came to a peaceful conclusion.”

Ritenour, who has a past criminal history but was not on the state’s sex offenders list, now faces a March 6 court date for the aforementioned charge, as well as that of abduction with intent to defile, attempted rape and possession of cocaine.

Sandra Sylvester, an assistant commonweatlh’s attorney, expressed confidence in the case.

“I’m never going to say that there’s no doubt that he’ll be convicted, but we’ll do the best we can do to make the community safe,” Sylvester said.

This weekend’s incident was reminiscent to a 1992 case, in which Edward Stewart, a Prince William County man, sodomized an 8-year-old girl in his car.

Stewart was convicted and is currently serving a term of no less than 20 years in prison, Sylvester said.

Staff writer Adam H. Beasley can be reached at (703) 878-8073.

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