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Abduction charges again Texas man involving Bassett girl move to circuit court
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Abduction charges again Texas man involving Bassett girl move to circuit court

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Charges against a Texas man for the abduction of a 12-year-old Bassett girl were certified to Henry County Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Kaleb Merritt, 21, of Spring, Texas, appeared in Henry County Juvenile and Domestic Court for a preliminary hearing on charges of rape, abduction and solicitation of a girl that began with an online relationship in December and culminated with the girl’s disappearance from her home in February.

An Amber Alert was issued, and police caught up with Merritt and the girl in Henderson, N.C.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the girl was called to the stand to testify, and she said that it was her intention to run away with Merritt because she loved him.

A portion of an interview between Merritt and investigators read at the hearing indicated that Merritt did not consider himself kidnapping a child but that the two had agreed to run away together.

The Bulletin had published the name of the girl when she was considered a missing person, but because of her age and the nature of the case, she isn’t named in this account.

A criminal complaint on file with the warrants for Merritt’s arrest say police were notified Feb. 11 by Discord, an app that allows users to communicate with each other by voice, video, texts or the exchange of files in private chats, about messages between Merritt and the girl that occurred between Feb. 7 and Feb. 10.

The notification from Discord identified Merritt as a member of a Discord group that extorts girls.

The Henry County Sheriff’s Office was notified on Feb. 11 by the Southwestern Virginia Internet Crimes against Children Task Force that officials had flagged messages on Instagram exchange between Merritt and the girl, a sheriff’s office release stated.

Investigators caught up with Merritt at the Planet Fitness on the Greensboro Road in Martinsville and seized his communication devices.

“The communication was concerning, but not illegal—probably like a well-being check,” Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said. “We made contact with Mr. Merritt and pushed it as far as we could legally. We talked to the commonwealth attorney, and the communication was not illegal.”

But the warrants stated that Merritt and the girl used the Discord app to communicate explicit details about sexual acts involving both of them and to exchange child pornography.

Other court documents indicate Merritt and the girl met on the social app Instagram in December and then moved their communication to Discord.

Records also show that, on the same day investigators took Merritt’s communication devices, he notified the girl to hide her phone and leave her home.

The following day, on Feb. 12, the girl’s great-grandmother reported that she was missing and that she had discovered a suicide note.

The girl’s cellphone was discovered hidden in a saxophone case.

An Amber Alert was issued, and the next day Perry called two press conferences.

At the first press conference Perry appealed to the public for any information as to the whereabouts of Merritt and the girl and for Merritt to drop the girl off somewhere safe.

The second time Perry called the media together, he announced the girl had been found safe and that Merritt had been arrested in Henderson.

“This should be a reminder to all parents and their children, parental conversations and inspections are needed and who you think you’re talking to is most of the time not who you’re talking to,” Perry said. “We think he [Merritt] was in the area alone, we are breaking down communications, but it appears he was in the area by himself.”

Perry also said investigators had information that Merritt was also communicating with at least one other girl in the area.

Merritt’s next court date has been set for 9 a.m. on Sept. 24 in Henry County Circuit Court.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt.

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