A 37-year-old man who has previously been arrested on kidnapping and false imprisonment charges was being questioned by police about the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl who was apparently kidnapped while walking home from a friend's house.
Joseph P. Smith was in custody on a probation violation charge unrelated to the disappearance of Carlie Brucia, whose apparent abduction Sunday evening was captured by a car wash surveillance camera.
"We have strong evidence that he is in fact the perpetrator," said Capt. Jeff Bell, the lead Sarasota County sheriff's investigator on the case.
As of early Thursday, Smith had not been charged in the girl's disappearance, but CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara reports Smith does appear to resemble the suspected abductor seen in the surveillance tape.
Smith's car, a Buick Century station wagon, was being combed by investigators for clues. A home he had recently lived in was cordoned off with yellow police tape and several paper bags, presumably holding evidence, were carried out by investigators. A body was not found, officials said.
Carlie's stepfather, Steven Kansler, was among those who visited the crime scene. Kansler left the home visibly distraught late Wednesday night, but could not be reached for comment, and Chuck Chambers, a private investigator hired by the girl's family said he had no knowledge of why the family was summoned to the home.
The video footage of Carlie's apparent abduction showed a tattooed man wearing a mechanic's shirt with a name patch on one lapel. From the footage, Carlie did not appear to know him, and the girl's parents said they did not recognize him.
Smith works as a mechanic and has many tattoos, officials said.
"Please consider this as a focus now to find Carlie, to bring her home," said Bell.
Carlie's family remains hopeful that she will soon come home, Kansler said Wednesday, shortly before officials announced Smith was in custody.
"She's full of life and she's not going to give up," Kansler said.
A tip phoned into authorities led them to Smith, said Sheriff Bill Balkwill, whose office received more than 400 leads from citizens.
Smith has been arrested at least 13 times in Florida since 1993, according to state records. He was arrested in 1997 in Manatee County on kidnapping and false imprisonment charges, but was acquitted a year later. Records also show other arrests ranging from misdemeanor battery to felony drug possession.
Friends from the girl's former Girl Scout troop took a day off from school Wednesday to pass out fliers at malls, canvass neighborhoods and distribute pink ribbons adorned with Carlie's name.
"I don't feel too good about this, knowing my best friend is out there with a stranger," said Tiffany Meeks.
"If that is the guy, where's she at? She could be anywhere," said another friend, Mandi Langworthy.
A reward fund of $50,000 was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.