- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — A multiple felon out on probation was being questioned yesterday in the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped while walking home from a friend’s house, authorities said.

The girl’s whereabouts were not immediately known.

Joseph P. Smith, 37, has been in custody since Tuesday on unrelated charges that officials did not specify, although the Orlando Sentinel reported last night that Sarasota County Jail records show him arrested on charges of cocaine possession and violation of probation.

His car, a Buick Century station wagon, was being searched by investigators in search of clues in the disappearance of Carlie Brucia, whose abduction was captured by a carwash surveillance camera.

“We have strong evidence that he is, in fact, the perpetrator,” said Capt. Jeff Bell, the lead Sarasota County sheriff’s investigator on the case.

Col. Terry Lewis called it an “ongoing, dynamic investigation.”

He said his investigative team will continue working through the night, but would not have further comment until a press briefing this morning.

Smith has been arrested at least 13 times in Florida since 1993, according to state records. He was arrested in 1997 by Manatee County officials on kidnapping and false-imprisonment charges, but was acquitted a year later, records show. Other arrests range from misdemeanor battery to felony drug-possession charges.

Surveillance video footage of Carlie’s abduction showed a man in his late 20s or early 30s in a mechanic’s shirt with a name patch on one lapel. Investigators said he also had tattoos on both forearms.

Smith has many tattoos on his body, including on both arms, officials said.

From the tape, Carlie did not appear to know him, and the girl’s parents said they did not recognize him.

Friends from the girl’s former Girl Scout troop took a day off from school yesterday to pass out fliers at malls, canvass neighborhoods and distribute pink ribbons adorned with Carlie’s name.

“I don’t feel too good about this, knowing my best friend is out there with a stranger,” Tiffany Meeks said.

The girl’s father, Joe Brucia, looked exhausted when he appeared on national TV yesterday morning.

“I’m doing OK. I have to be for Carlie’s sake,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I always have hope. I maintain that. I have to. I look forward to my daughter’s safe return.”

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