Mother and stepfather charged after three girls are freed from home in Tucson

November 28, 2013

Three sisters who escaped after being held captive in Arizona for up to two years by their mother and stepfather were confined in filthy conditions in a house with elaborate security and crudely soundproofed rooms, police said.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor told a news conference Wednesday that the house in which the malnourished girls were held had been elaborately alarmed and outfitted with round-the-clock video security.

“Their movements were controlled — when, where and how they went to the bathroom, when they were fed,” and they had not seen each other for much of that time, he said.

Loud music was continuously played in the girls’ bedrooms, and towels had been stuffed into ducts and under the doors in an apparent attempt to muffle sound, Villasenor told reporters.

The music was sometimes replaced with loud static, he said.

On Tuesday, the two younger sisters, age 12 and 13, managed to run to a neighbor’s house and told them their stepfather had kicked in their bedroom door and tried to attack them with a knife, according to police.

In a subsequent search of the house, police said they discovered a 17-year-old girl locked in another bedroom, and they arrested the mother and stepfather.

Fernando Richter, 34, and Sophia Richter, 32, were charged with emotional and physical child abuse and kidnapping. The stepfather is also charged with one count of sexual abuse of a child under 15.

More charges are expected, Villasenor said.

Since regaining their freedom, the girls have been evaluated by doctors and are under the care and supervision of Child Protective Services, Villasenor said.

Police said the girls’ mother had a cellphone with a San Diego telephone number; that helped the family convince the girls’ biological fathers and grandmothers that the family was in California.

Officers are also looking over a journal kept by the 17-year-old girl and covering more than 18 months of captivity and abuse, which the police chief declined to describe in detail.

The teenager kept the journal in a satchel with a photo of singer Enrique Iglesias throughout her ordeal. She was overjoyed when the photo was returned on Wednesday, after police examined the contents of her bag, Villasenor said.

Police had been called to the family home twice before the call at 4 a.m. Tuesday alerted them to the girls’ situation. On one occasion, Fernando Richter reported being chased by teenagers. On another, he said he had been robbed.

Sophia Richter told police her daughters were home-schooled.

The couple have been together for about 10 years and married for three or four years, and there is evidence the girls were held against their will in at least one of the family’s former homes, Villasenor said.

Fernando and Sophia Richter are being held in the Pima County jail, with bond set at $100,000 and $75,000 respectively.

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