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GIRLS FOUND SAFE KIDNAPPER SHOT, KILLED AS DEPUTIES CLOSE IN.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick, Ryan Oliver and Greg Botonis Staff Writers

QUARTZ HILL - After 12 hours of agony for their families, two popular teenage girls were rescued by sheriff's deputies who fatally shot the suspected rapist who abducted them at gunpoint.

Continual news reports and the first use of the state's AMBER Alert for child abductions resulted in residents calling in sightings of the stolen Ford Bronco in which the girls were driven for hundreds of miles - from Quartz Hill to Los Angeles to Lake Isabella, where law officers spotted it and began a pursuit.

``I couldn't be a happier man right now,'' kidnap victim Tamara Brooks' father, Sam, said outside the Lancaster sheriff's station after the rescue. ``I hope that none of you and no one ever has to go through this. We just kept the faith, smiled and did what we could.''

Said kidnap victim Jacqueline Marris' father, Herb: ``I couldn't believe it, that she was found alive and OK.''

The girls' kidnapper was identified as Roy Ratliff, 37, an ex-convict from Rosamond, wanted since October on warrant accusing him of sexually assaulting and threatening a female relative.

Paroled in July 2001 after prison terms for burglary and drugs, Ratliff had stopped reporting to his parole agent in September, when the rape occurred, officials said.

After their rescue, the girls were taken by ambulance to Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, where they were being examined Thursday evening. Their families flew to Bakersfield from Lancaster in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department airplane.

``They seem to be OK,'' Kern County sheriff's Cmdr. Chris Davis said of the teens.

The girls were abducted at gunpoint about 1:30 a.m. Thursday from a hilltop teen hangout overlooking Lancaster, and the two young men they were with were bound with duct tape, officials said.

The kidnapper left behind a Saturn sedan carjacked two weeks earlier from an elderly couple in their Las Vegas driveway. He forced the girls into one of the young men's SUV.

One of the young men was able to free himself after about 20 minutes and run about a half-mile to a pay phone near a business on 50th Street West, where he called sheriff's deputies.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers in patrol cars and in aircraft fanned out across the area, looking for the 1980 Bronco.

The FBI alerted its offices in San Diego, Fresno, Bakersfield, Phoenix, Ariz., and at the Mexican border, and agents in Las Vegas interviewed the elderly couple whose car was carjacked July 18. They were seeking additional information on the robber and trying to confirm that he was the same man who kidnapped the girls.

The SUV was sighted about eight hours later on Mulholland Drive in the San Fernando Valley, then four hours after that by a Kern County animal control worker on remote Highway 178 east of Lake Isabella.

Two Kern County sheriff's deputies quickly located the SUV on Highway 178 near the farm hamlet of Canebrake and chased it until it went up a dirt road and crashed in a gully. The driver ran.

The deputies rescued the girls and ran after the driver, whom they shot when he refused to surrender, Davis said.

Davis said he didn't know whether Ratliff was armed or whether he fired at the deputies. The department will investigate the shooting, he said.

``We would have liked to have taken him alive, but he dictated the course of events,'' Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. Tom Pigott said.

Antelope Valley residents mobilized around the abductions, which were called unprecedented.

``We'd never had anything like this here before, and I've lived here 56 years,'' Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts said.

Quartz Hill Walk-in Medical Clinic employees quickly offered a $25,000 reward, and $10,000 rewards were announced by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich and Lancaster's mayor.

Dozens of teenagers and the girls' relatives flocked to the Lancaster sheriff's station and Quartz Hills substation, where they waited hours for word. Their tears of anguish turned into cries of joy when they learned that both girls had been rescued.

During their anxious hours of waiting, Jacqueline's Highland High School classmates printed up and handed out hundreds of fliers around the valley. Other people organized a prayer service for tonight at Lane Park, near the abduction site. The service was canceled when the girls were rescued.

When Highland students ran short of money to pay for 800 copies of a flier at Kinko's, a man standing in line gave them $50. At Donnell Printing in Lancaster, the company printed 500 fliers for free.

``It's just wonderful how everybody came together to help us do this,'' 17-year-old Katelyn Gallagher said.

News of the rescue was announced over the public-address system at the Palmdale Wal-Mart, drawing a collective gasp from shoppers.

Tamara, 16, an Antelope Valley High School track star and student government officer, and Jacqueline, 17, a Highland High School cheerleader, had been with two young men parked, respectively, in an SUV and a truck on top of Quartz Hill mountain, which gives a view of the lights of Lancaster.

The kidnapper drove the stolen Saturn up the steep dirt road leading to the overlook. He approached the couple in one vehicle and, at gunpoint, forced them over to the second vehicle, deputies said.

Eric Joshua Brown, 18, and Frank Melero Jr., 19, were bound with duct tape, which the kidnapper apparently had with him, and he forced the girls into Brown's Bronco.

Before he left, the kidnapper doused the stolen Saturn with gasoline, but didn't set it on fire. Deputies were unable to say whether he did that before or after he accosted the teens.

Coming on the heels of the ultimately fatal kidnappings of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in Orange County and 7-year-old Danielle van Dam in San Diego County, the abduction drew wide attention.

News crews broadcast in four languages from outside the Lancaster sheriff's station. Sheriff's deputies and CHP officers volunteered to work for free to help find the kidnapper after their regular shifts ended.

Staff Writer Karen Maeshiro contributed to this story.

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, box, map

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Jacqueline Marris, left, and Tamera Brooks were found safe after being kidnapped early Thursday.

(3 -- color) RATLIFF

(4 -- color -- ran in AV edition only) Friends and relatives comfort the sister of kidnapping victim Jacqueline Marris outside the Quartz Hill sheriff's substation on Thursday.

(5 -- ran in AV edition only) Suspect Roy Ratliff, an ex-convict, poured gasoline over this Saturn sedan he had carjacked from an elderly Las Vegas pair.

Jeff Goldwater/Staff Photographer

(6) Desiree Lemos, 16, left, and Erika Bermudez, 16, celebrate after learning that Jacqueline Marris had been found safe.

Ric Francis/Associated Press

Box/Map:

TEENS KIDNAPPED
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 2, 2002
Words:1129
Previous Article:AMBER HELPS IN HUNT SYSTEM EFFECTIVE IN GIRLS' RECOVERY.
Next Article:2 GIRLS RESCUED; KIDNAPPER KILLED SUSPECT REFUSES TO SURRENDER.



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