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10-Year-Old Kidnap Victim Released

The 10-year-old girl held captive for three days then released in apparent good health has told investigators that her abductor was a complete stranger, authorities said Friday.

Jessica Rodriguez walked alone into a Wal-Mart on Thursday and asked for help. She was quickly reunited with her mother and smothered with hugs and kisses, said Gilchrist County Sheriff David Turner.

"She was able to give us a lot of details and is a very strong and encouraging young witness," Turner said on ABC's Good Morning America Friday. "According to her, he was a stranger. She did not know him by name. Or could not believe that she had ever seen him previously."

Details on the girl's condition have not been released, but those who have seen her said she appeared to be in good health. Jessica was taken to a hospital for an examination.

"She's in good condition," Turner said. "She's one tough, strong little girl. She was very happy to see her mother."

Investigators said they believe the child was dropped off outside the store by her captor, but it was unclear what happened to her while she was missing. Authorities have intensified their search for the man they believed grabbed her from her driveway on Monday.

The girl was reported abducted by a stranger as she got off the bus with her two younger sisters at their rural home about 25 miles northwest of Gainesville.

Over the next three days, her mother and aunts made tearful public pleas for her return. Her uncles combed through the woods looking for her, emerging dusty and bloodied from briar scratches.

Word that Jessica had been found alive came as her mother, Jennifer Graham, was undergoing a routine lie-detector test at the sheriff's office, said Sharon Gogerty, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Jessica's sisters, ages 4 and 8, told authorities they saw a man grab her from her long dirt driveway and put her in a green Jeep Cherokee. The bus driver said he never saw the man, nor his car.

Graham said she normally met her daughters at the bus stop as a safety precaution. But on Monday, she said she had fallen asleep on the couch after working a night shift at a fast-food restaurant and caring for her youngest, a 6-month-old boy.

Thomas Kelley, her fiance, said he was working in the yard and heard the girls scream. He ran toward them just in time to see the man back out of the driveway and speed off, police said.

Jessica's extended family has lived in the isolated woods northwest of Gainesville for five generations, considering it a safe place to raise children.

"Here in rural Gilchrist County, we don't have crimes of this nature occurring," the sheriff said. "This is an extreme rarity. This is very traumatic for the family and community."

By Vickie Chachere
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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