- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

LANCASTER, Calif. Two teenage girls abducted at gunpoint early yesterday from a lovers' lane were rescued 100 miles away after their kidnapper crashed his getaway car and was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies, authorities said.

Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks said he was certain the kidnapper was minutes away from killing the girls and had chosen a remote location in the high desert. He said the girls had been raped.

"He was hunting for a place to kill them and bury them," Sheriff Sparks said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

When two deputies arrived, the suspect showed a gun and said, "No way, no way," according to the sheriff. The deputies shot him seven times.

Television footage showed the sobbing girls being bandaged for what appeared to be minor injuries. Tamara Brooks, 16, and Jacqueline Marris, 17, were taken to a hospital.

Hospital administrator Peter Bryan said they were "coherent, awake, alert," but he declined to discuss their condition.

The abduction launched a 12-hour manhunt across the Southwest.

The kidnapper was identified as 37-year-old Roy Ratliff, who had a long criminal history and was charged in October with raping a 19-year-old relative but was never apprehended.

The girls were abducted at 1 a.m. in the Quartz Hill area outside Lancaster by a gunman who left the girls' dates bound with duct tape. The kidnapper drove off in a Ford Bronco that belonged to Tamara's date, leaving behind a car the FBI said was stolen in Las Vegas last month.

Acting on a tip, authorities spotted the Bronco near Lake Isabella, a two-hour drive north of Lancaster, with the girls inside the vehicle. After a short chase, the Bronco veered off the road in the high desert and crashed, said Kern County sheriff's Cmdr. Chris Davis.

Cmdr. Davis said he did not know whether the man returned fire before he was killed.

Friends and relatives at the sheriff's command center here wept with joy and hugged when they learned the girls were safe.

"My little child Jacque, I can't wait to see her. I love her so much. If you're watching this honey, I love you, I can't wait for you to get home," said Jacqueline's father, Herb Marris.

Tamara's father, Sammie Brooks, told reporters in Lancaster, "I couldn't be a happier man right now and hope none of you has to go through something like this."

Arrangements were being made to reunite the girls with their parents. "When I get to see her and hold her, then that's when it'll all be real," said Nadine Dyer, Jacqueline's mother.

After the kidnapping was reported, authorities swiftly issued an "Amber Alert," using radio and TV bulletins and electronic freeway signs to announce the abduction.

It was the first time California authorities used the plan named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was kidnapped in 1996 and found dead in Texas.

The Lancaster case was the latest in a string of highly publicized abductions in California this year. One man is on trial for the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, who was taken in February from her home in a San Diego suburb, and another has been charged in the slaying of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, who was snatched outside her Orange County home last month while playing with a friend.

In the Runnion case, authorities caught the suspect within days after getting a description from the girl's playmate and promoting it aggressively with the media.

Tamara and Jacqueline were kidnapped after they parked in separate vehicles beneath two giant water tanks on a barren, scrub brush-dotted hilltop known as Quartz Hill, a teenage hangout.

The gunman forced Tamara out of the Bronco belonging to her date, Eric Brown, 18. He then approached a pickup truck occupied by Jacqueline and her date, Frank Melero Jr.

Mr. Brown said he was blindfolded, bound with duct tape and tied to a post as the man took Tamara. "He just kept telling her to stay down, keep her head down, don't look at him," he said.

A utilities worker who arrived at the kidnapping spot about 90 minutes later discovered the male victims and called police.

Left behind was a car that the FBI said was stolen July 18 from an elderly woman in Las Vegas. Authorities said Ratliff poured gasoline over the car, apparently trying to torch it, but was unsuccessful.

Residents of the nearby city of Palmdale said the desert area where Tamara and Jacqueline were abducted was a place where local teenagers gathered for parties and privacy.

Mauricia Tate, 17, said she "just dropped to the floor" when she learned that her cousin, Tamara, nicknamed "Thumbelina," was missing.

Tamara was staying at the home of an aunt while her mother visited an older sister, Mauricia told Reuters. The mother was on her way home, she said.

Mr. Brown, Tamara's companion, was a longtime friend, not a boyfriend, Mauricia said. She described Tamara as a good student and an avid athlete.

Jacqueline was a cheerleader who decided to quit the squad this year to focus on senior-year activities, said her friend, Jamie Johnstone.

Jamie and another classmate, Chenile Basteleraar, both 17, said when they learned from television news that their friend was missing they made up flyers and began distributing them.

Both girls expressed surprise that Jacqueline was out so late with a young man that neither of them knew. "She's smart, she's nice, she's focused, she had it all together," Jamie said.

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