- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

BARTOW, Fla. (AP) — A teenage girl was found alive and well after she sneaked out of her house to rendezvous with a high-risk sex offender she met on Myspace.com, a sheriff said yesterday.

Alyssa Frank, 15, was found safe in the Florida Panhandle a day after she disappeared, but the man accused of running off with her was still on the loose, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Sheriff Judd pleaded with the public for any tips to find the suspect he identified as William Joe Mitchell, 46, of Jacksonville, who was thought to have a handgun.

Mitchell met the girl online and cultivated a relationship, Sheriff Judd said. She thought Mitchell was 24, Sheriff Judd told CNN.

Alyssa was found at a Wal-Mart in DeFuniak Springs where Mitchell apparently dropped her off, Sheriff Judd said. She acknowledged her identity to authorities and was cooperative.

The girl’s parents are “elated,” Sheriff Judd said.

Alyssa told officials that Mitchell said he was going somewhere for about five minutes at the Wal-Mart and that if she drew any attention to herself he would kill her, Sheriff Judd said. Officials think his intent, however, was to drop her off.

Sheriff Judd said the pair also crossed into Alabama and he planned to speak to officials there to determine whether federal charges are possible.

Alyssa sneaked out of her house in Bartow to meet Mitchell at 3 a.m. Monday and was reported missing a little more than three hours later, Sheriff Judd said.

“Alyssa contacted some of her friends and said that she was running away,” Sheriff Judd said before she was found. “When they asked, ‘Well, why are you running away?’ She told them ‘for love.’ ”

Sheriff Judd said Mitchell had 14 prior arrests on charges including burglary, aggravated assault with a weapon, grand larceny, bomb threats, extortion and offense or offer of lewdness, and lewd and lascivious behavior.

Alyssa ran away just a day after a new Florida law took effect, making the state’s sex-predator penalties some of the toughest in the nation.

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