Crime

Kidnapped Woman With Autism Found, Two Men Charged

| by Erik Kindel

A missing Missouri woman with autism has been found in a mobile home not far from her own after she was allegedly kidnapped and held by two men for three days. Both men face felony charges of sexual assault and kidnapping.

Breanna Sterling, 22, was reported missing from her home in Greene County on April 15, reports KTTS. Her family was especially concerned because Sterling has autism and reportedly has the mental capacity of a 9-year-old child.

Sterling had left her home after becoming upset, reports KYTV. She left a note, but it was unreadable. Shortly after leaving her home, she was reportedly approached by two men who invited her into their home and offered her alcoholic beverages. The men allegedly then held Sterling against her will for three days and sexually assaulted her.

More than 60 officers were involved in the three-day search for Sterling, and she was eventually found only a few houses away, in the same mobile home park. KOLR reported that search for Sterling involved the bloodhound unit from the Ozarks Correctional Center, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, The Republic and Springfield Police, the Greene County Sheriffs Office Mounted Posse and a number of volunteers.

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In the end, it was Sterling's sister who provided the major break in the case, when she canvassed the mobile home park with a photo of Sterling, asking for any information. A man standing outside his home allegedly told her that Sterling was inside the residence. Sterling's sister called the police, who arrived and arrested three men living at the residence. Only two were charged in connection with the alleged kidnapping.

"To have it literally be in our backyard and can throw a stone at these guys is horrible," said Lindsey Smith, a neighbor.

Sterling, through the help of a trained interviewer, told officers that she had been hit, choked, starved and raped while being detained against her will in the residence.

On April 18, Luis Lopez-Lara, 25, and Helmer Erazo, 23, were charged with first-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault. Charges are pending for two other men. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement identified Lopez-Lara as an immigrant in the country illegally.

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In a statement from the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Sheriff Jim Arnott said, "I am thankful that the victim in this case was recovered safely. This investigation is ongoing and we will continue to work to bring justice to the victim in this case."

Smith, like other neighbors, is shocked and worried about their trailer park after the incident. When asked about how it affected her views of the area, Smith talked about her own daughter's safety and how important it was to re-examine her neighbors in new light.

"I haven't let her ride the bus," said Smith. "I don't want her out in the neighborhood, I don't want her unsupervised ... We've never had anything like this go on. We've never felt like we really had to lock our doors, lock our cars and watch our kids at night. Just not the town I grew up in anymore."

Smith called the event, "Horrible, absolutely horrible."

Sources: KOLR, KTTS, KYTV / Photo credit: Coast Guard News/Flickr

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