PORTSMOUTH — Police had identified the man charged today in connection with the disappearance of a 13-year-old Portsmouth girl Wednesday morning.
At a 3 p.m. press conference at Town Hall, Interim Police Chief Jeffrey Furtado said Daniel Berger, 27, of Haskell, N.J., was charged with transporting a minor with the intent to commit criminal sexual activity. If he’s convicted, the charge is punishable by a sentence of 10 years to life in prison, he said.
Mr. Berger made an initial appearance today in Federal District Court in Newark, N.J., according to Special Agent Colin Woods of the FBI office in Providence.
“At some point he will then be brought back to Rhode Island” to face charges, he said, adding that additional criminal charges against Mr. Berger may be forthcoming.
The girl was found safe in Haskell — in the man’s apartment, according to police — at about 1 a.m. Thursday and reunited with her family in New Jersey, said Chief Furtado. He said he didn’t know the current whereabouts of the family.
“This is an extremently difficult time for them,” said the police chief, asking members of the media to respect the family’s privacy. He added that he doesn’t know if the family is planning on releasing a statement.
The girl and the suspect “most likely met via the internet” before Wednesday morning, he said, adding that the girl appeared to go with the man willingly. The mother told police she left the house to run an errand at about 9 a.m. Wednesday and returned to find her daughter gone.
“This was not a random act or a child snatching. It appears that the victim and the suspect were known to each other and had some form of prior communication,” said Chief Furtado, who declined to name a specific website where the two may have first connected.
Chief Furtado, in fact, was tightlipped about most of the police investigation. He would not comment on the state of the girl’s health, the methods used to track the suspect (other than Amber Alert), or the arrested man’s criminal history or previous involvement with police.
“We do not want to compromise our investigation,” he said.
A landscaper who witnessed the girl leaving with the man in a red car Wednesday morning initially described the driver as being between 40 and 50 years old. Chief Furtado declined to comment on whether the driver was indeed the same man who was arrested.
He did say, however, that he believes “one other male party” was in the Haskell apartment and was aware of the girl’s presence. That man, the chief believes, was detained for a time but no charges were filed.
Asked whether there was a lesson to be learned from the incident, he said, “I think you could take this case at face value. Obviously there’a concern when you have predators preying on our children over the internet.”
Parents have to be aware of their children’s online activity — “what they’re doing and who they’re with. This case demonstrates how dangerous it can be.”
He added, “Young people often don’t realize the dangers of simple activities … as going online and things of that nature.”
Chief Furtado thanked many different agencies for their assistance in the investigation, including the Rhode Island and New Jersey State Police; the Providence, Boston and Newark, N.J. offices of the FBI; the Warwick, Cranston and Providence police departments as well as police in New Jersey; and the R.I. Emergency Management Agency.
“Last and certainly not least, I’d like to thank the Portsmouth Fire Department,” he said, adding that it was instrumental in helping police throughout Wednesday’s search.