SMYTH COUNTY, Va. -- A Tennessee girl who vanished more than two weeks ago with a fugitive sex offender has been found safe in southern Virginia's Smyth County and the offender is in custody, officials say.
Police say the 14-year-old girl was found with known sex offender Benjamin Shook, 41, at a home early Tuesday morning. An Amber Alert that was issued for the teen on June 23, when she was spotted with Shook at a North Carolina WalMart, has been canceled, according to CBS affiliate WDBJ.
The girl is believed to have left her home in Surgoinsville, Tenn. on the night of June 22 in her father's Ford Explorer to pick up Shook, who she met online, reported WDBJ.
Federal, state and local authorities have tracked the pair's trail for 16 days, eventually focusing on Smyth County -- just over the state's border with North Carolina -- after several sightings there. Last week, authorities were combing Virginia's Jefferson National Forest along the Appalachian Trail for the two after search teams discovered camping equipment in Smyth County they apparently used.
Officials said Tuesday that Shook was arrested and the teen was rescued after a woman tipped off authorities that Shook and the teen had knocked on the door of her Smyth County, Virginia home and asked to take a shower. The woman called 911 just after 5 a.m. Tuesday. Investigators responded to the home near Atkins, found the teen girl safe and took Shook into custody without incident.
"The entire goal of this operation has always been to put a sexual predator behing bars and bring a 14-year-old lady back home to her family," neighboring Wythe County, Virginia sheriff Keith Dunnegan said at a press conference Tuesday. "This morning, we were able to accomplish that."
Shook apparently knew he was being tracked and took steps to remain undetected, officials said Tuesday, using Cedar Springs road as a "handrail" to guide their travel but keeping well off the road. Officials said the two had apparently been living off the land, allegedly stealing food and breaking into homes, and traveling at dusk to avoid being seen.
It's not clear where the two may have been headed.
Shook has active warrants and failed to register as a sex offender in Georgia, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He's faced previous charges for child molestation.
Shook was arrested by local law enforcement in Smyth County but is now in U.S. Marshals custody on a federal warrant. He's being transported to Greenville, Tennessee to appear before a federal judge.
They say the teen girl is safe. It's not clear whether she may have been abused during the 16 days she was with Shook, and investigators are working to determine whether any more crimes were committed while they were on the run.