A woman who manage to punch her way out of a cinder block cell and escape her kidnapper at a home in southern Oregon likely helped other women avoid a similar fate, the FBI says.
Negasi Zuberi, 29, is now in federal custody for the kidnapping, and police say he’s a suspect in sexual assaults in at least four other states.
According to a statement from the FBI, Zuberi posed as an undercover police officer three weeks ago and kidnapped a woman in Seattle. He then drove hundreds of kilometres back to his home in Klamath Falls, Ore., sexually assaulting the woman along the way, before trapping her in a makeshift cell crafted out of cinder blocks in his garage.
“This woman was kidnapped, chained, sexually assaulted, and locked in a cinderblock cell,” Stephanie Shark, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland field office, said in a news release. “Police say she beat the door with her hands until they were bloody in order to break free. Her quick thinking and will to survive may have saved other women from a similar nightmare.”
The woman was able to seek help from the driver of a passing car, who called 911. After her escape, Zuberi fled but was arrested the following day in Reno, Nev. He will be extradited to Oregon in the coming weeks.
At a press conference Wednesday, police said Zuberi has been charged with interstate kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and with transporting an individual across state lines with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison.
Police said that they are now looking for other victims after linking Zuberi to four violent sexual assaults in four other states.
Zuberi, who has used the aliases Sakima, Justin Hyche and Justin Kouassi in the past, has lived in at least 10 states since 2016, including California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Nevada.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon, Zuberi solicited the woman, identified only as Adult Victim 1, early on July 15 to engage in prostitution along Aurora Avenue in Seattle, an area known for sex work. Afterward, Zuberi told the woman he was an undercover officer, showed her a badge, pointed a stun gun at her and placed her in handcuffs and leg irons before putting her in the back of his vehicle, the complaint says.
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When they arrived at his home, about seven hours after he first encountered her, he put her in the makeshift cell which included a door of metal bars. He told her he was leaving to do paperwork.
The woman “briefly slept and awoke to the realization that she would likely die if she did not attempt to escape,” the complaint says.
By breaking through the door’s welded joints, she created a small opening and climbed through. On her way out of the garage, she grabbed Zuberi’s gun from his car, before climbing over a wooden fence to freedom.
“She repeatedly punched the door with her own hands,” Klamath Falls Police Capt. Rob Reynolds told a news conference. “She had several lacerations along her knuckles.”
Zuberi’s neighbour, Melanie McClure, told NBC News that nothing seemed out of the ordinary at his home, which he moved into about six months ago with his wife and two children.
“He’s not overly friendly, but he’s not a jerk or anything like that,” McClure told the outlet. “Nothing stood out to me that would speak to anything like what he’s being accused of.”
“I guess I’m surprised that I didn’t notice anything,” McClure added. “Here’s the thing — anybody can hide anything.”
The FBI have launched a website where potential victims or others with information related to the case can fill out a form to offer more information.
— with files from The Associated Press
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