Girls escape parents after months in captivity, police say

Posted at 10:11 AM, Nov 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-27 12:12:54-05
By Eliott C. McLaughlin


(CNN) — Two girls claiming they’d been held captive for several months or more in “filthy living conditions” told police they ran to a neighbor’s house to escape their knife-wielding stepfather, according to a Tucson, Arizona, police report.

Just after 4 a.m. Tuesday, when police responded to a report of a domestic incident involving a knife, they found a third sister, a 17-year-old, locked in a bedroom, the report says.

When officers opened the 17-year-old’s bedroom door, they were met with loud music that they couldn’t hear from the hallway because the room’s duct work had been sealed and towels had been shoved under the door, Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said during a Wednesday news conference.

All three girls reported being subjected to a “constant barrage” of music or static, the chief said.

“What we’re being told by the girls is the music never stopped,” Villasenor said.

Neighbors told CNN affiliates KTVK and KOLD that they didn’t realize children lived at the residence.

“Upon arrival, officers contacted two juvenile females, ages 12 and 13, who had (run) to the neighbor’s house alleging that their stepfather had attempted to break into their bedroom while brandishing a knife,” the incident report said.

“During the course of the investigation, it was alleged by the girls that they had been imprisoned in their bedrooms for at least the last several months and possibly up to two years.”

The girls were “extremely dirty” and told police they hadn’t bathed in at least four months, the report said.

“They were kept in filthy living conditions and allegedly only being fed once a day,” it added.

A reporter during the Wednesday news conference told Villasenor that the girls’ grandmother accused the three of exaggerating their plight, saying the girls were home schooled and not allowed outside because their parents didn’t like the neighborhood.

Several pieces of evidence suggest otherwise, the chief said, citing specifically a journal found in the 17-year-old’s satchel, documenting the last 18 months. There were also alarms on interior doors and constant video surveillance of the girls’ bedroom, he said.

When the sisters were reunited, Villasenor said, “to the detectives it appeared that they had not seen each other for quite some time.”

The neighbors to whose house the girls ran asked not to be identified and told KTVK that they had lived there since August and never seen children.

One of the neighbors said the girls “were distraught and visibly shaken. … They didn’t have any shoes on, and they looked like they had just gotten out of bed.”

A woman who has lived in the neighborhood for five years told KOLD she wasn’t aware anyone lived in the house and hadn’t seen any activity there.

Another neighbor told KOLD, “If there were kids, they never came out and played. We have kids all over this neighborhood, and they had to try extra hard to keep themselves secluded because obviously somebody would have said, noticed something.”

The stepfather, Fernando Richter, 34, and the mother, Sophia Richter, 32, were arrested and booked into the Pima County Jail.

Sophia Richter faces three counts of kidnapping, three counts of child abuse/emotional abuse and three counts of child abuse/physical abuse. The stepfather faces the same charges, plus an additional count of sexual abuse with a person younger than 15, according to the report.

Villasenor would not elaborate on the sex abuse charge Wednesday, saying only, “We had enough to charge him with that.”

A judge on Wednesday set bond for Fernando Richter at $100,000 and for Sophia Richter at $75,000 after the pair appeared in court via video, according to KOLD.

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