A 14-year-old who went missing from her family’s home outside San Diego was found by military police inside the barracks at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, authorities said Thursday.
A U.S. marine was taken into custody for questioning in connection with the incident, though no charges have been filed thus far.
The girl was said to have run away from her grandmother’s house in the Spring Valley area on June 9, though she wasn’t reported missing until June 13.
“The grandmother reported to deputies that the teen had previously run away before, but always returned home quickly,” said Melissa Aquino, a media relations officer for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office (SDSO).
The 14-year-old was then located nearly three weeks later on June 28 inside Camp Pendleton’s barracks.
NBC San Diego was the first to report on the incident a week later on July 6.
That was the same day that Casaundra Perez, who identified herself as the 14-year-old’s aunt, posted a TikTok claiming her niece was raped at the Marine barracks and was “sold to a service member for sex.”
“(The military is) trying to cover it up and place the majority of the blame on her. However, the reality is the whole facility allowed this to happen,” Perez says in the video. She did not provide any evidence to corroborate her claims.
“The security looked her in the face and allowed this man to bring a minor onto the base, where he proceeded to have sex with her. Due to her age, she could not have given this consent.”
Perez notes that her niece has learning disabilities.
After the teen was found, she was interviewed by authorities and returned home to her grandmother, officials said.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) is handling the investigation as Camp Pendleton is a Marine base. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department and San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force are supporting the investigation.
“We can confirm that a Marine with Combat Logistics Battalion 5, 1st Marine Logistics Group was taken into custody for questioning by NCIS on June 28, 2023, as seen on social media July 2, 2023,” Capt. Chuck Palmer told NBC San Diego, referencing a photo of a Marine being led away in handcuffs posted to Instagram.
“The incident is under investigation, and we will continue to cooperate with NCIS and appropriate authorities.”
The Marine, who has yet to be identified, remains in the custody of his command and has not been officially charged, Palmer said.
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“This command takes this matter and all allegations very seriously,” he added.
NCIS spokesperson Jeff Houston told NBC San Diego that “out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS does not comment on, confirm details relating to, or confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.”
Perez is demanding a transparent investigation into her niece’s disappearance.
“We hope you would join us in calling and demanding both release of details as well as the pursuit of justice,” she said. “Our family is worried about retaliation from the military and the man that has trafficked my niece.”
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