CIRCLEVILLE — A Circleville girl has been returned safely to her family after going missing Saturday night.
Just before midnight on Saturday, 15-year-old Gracelyn Abner went missing in the area of Clark Drive with a then unknown man. Circleville police officers put out a call for information on social media and asked anyone with outside cameras, ring doorbell cameras or similar systems to check them for the time between 10:30 p.m. and midnight.
Abner was reportedly spotted on the Circleville City Schools campus, although that search turned up empty.
“Eyewitnesses stated that the juvenile left the area and was headed toward the Circleville schools campus with an unknown male,” Circleville police said in a press release. “Officers on foot were able to locate the missing child and assistance was requested for Survival Flight 14 to canvass the area with night vision technology, however, no one was located.”
Although, due to calls from residents in the area, Abner was found with Philip Peters, 40, of Circleville, on the exercising path connected to the schools. Abner was taken into protective custody and Peters was arrested.
Circleville Police Chief Shawn Baer said detectives worked through the night before handing things off for a couple hours to road patrol so they could rest and hit the ground running early Sunday morning.
“That’s how we were able to find her, their coordination and the different techniques they used to look for her,” he mentioned. “At the end of the day, we found her and it pays off to have people that are able to do those things.”
Baer said the department’s relationship with the public and their use of social media has been helpful in solving cases.
“We’ve tried to spend a lot of time showing the public the things we do do,” he added. “We show them the rough things that are hard and the good things. This was one of those hard things where we needed as much help as we could get.”
Detective Jon Farrelly said it was a long night and it was the community tips that led them to finding her.
“It was a domino effect and we managed to get a confession (from the suspect) within about 10 to 15 minutes,” he told The Circleille Herald.
Farrelly said Survival Flight came to the department a couple months ago to notify them of their ability to do grid searches and use night vision to help locate missing people or suspects.
“They said to call them and that they’re not opposed to doing a search for a missing person,” he remarked. “We never knew they had that capability until they told us. It’s a great resource to have. Unfortunately, they didn’t find them that night; we think they were inside or under an overpass.”
Baer said he thinks the department is better at communicating these days than ever before.
“This year so far, we’ve used the private sector a few times this year,” he mentioned. “Earlier this year, we had an incident at GE and we needed a crane and all of a sudden, we had one. It makes a huge difference, those relationships. I don’t know what we’d do sometimes without them.”
Peters has been charged with two felony counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, obstructing official business and a probation violation.
“Thank you to the citizens of Circleville who contacted the Circleville Police Department with tips; they helped bring this juvenile home safely to her family,” Baer said.
The incident is still under investigation by the Circleville Police Department.