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13-year-old Calif. girl fled to avoid arranged marriage in Pakistan, cops say

Jessie Bender Hesperia Police Dept.

13-year-old Calif. girl fled to avoid arranged marriage in Pakistan, cops say
Jessie Bender
Hesperia Police Dept.

(CBS/AP) HESPERIA, Calif. - Police who spent more than a week searching for 13-year-old Jessie Bender say they found the girl unharmed in a hotel Wednesday, where she said she ran away to avoid being forced into an arranged marriage in Pakistan.

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Jesse was taken into child protective custody as authorities decide whether to recommend filing charges against her family, San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said.

Jesse's mother reported her missing on Feb. 22, telling authorities that her daughter was upset about having to go on a two-month vacation to her father's native Pakistan, Bachman said.

Several days later, Melissa Bender told investigators she was worried her daughter ran off with someone she had been communicating with on Facebook. Her statement launched a nationwide kidnapping investigation by the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, and multiple law enforcement agencies fearful that the girl was with an Internet predator.

Detectives served several search warrants and the investigation reached as far as Chicago because the mother believed the person who befriended her daughter on Facebook lived there.

"All that information was misleading," Bachman said. "Whoever she was communicating with online was not a threat to her."

As detectives began to focus on the Bender family, they learned that a relative was hiding Jessie in the town of Apple Valley, out of fear that she would be taken to Pakistan. That relative led detectives to the hotel early Wednesday.

Jesse's three siblings were also taken into child protective custody pending the completion of the investigation, Bachman said.

No arrests have been made.

  • Edecio Martinez

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