In the early morning hours of Feb. 25, police were called to a home in Elyria, Ohio.
There had been an apparent abduction attempt at the home, local authorities said in a news release. A 10-year-old girl ran into her father’s room that night, screaming, according to the release.
She told her father that someone had grabbed her legs and tried to yank her out of her bedroom window. The girl described the person who tried to abduct her — a man in his 30s, who was wearing a hoodie tied tightly around his face.
Months later, another girl was taken in Cleveland, which is about 30 miles from Elyria. That case involved a 6-year-old girl, and this time, the abductor was successful. The child was taken from her home at about 4:30 a.m. May 21 and brought to another location.
The young victim was sexually assaulted, according to the Cuyahoga County Office of the Prosecutor, and later released.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams spoke of the May abduction at a news conference Monday, saying the child was taken “in the dead of night,” by “basically a monster.” Then, he mentioned other officers and investigators in the room, whom he said worked on the case.
“It is my pleasure to announce that on Friday, this team who you see assembled behind me, made an arrest in that case,” Williams said.
Investigators have arrested 29-year-old Justin A. Christian of Lorain County in the two incidents. At a news conference, Christian was called a “serial child abductor and predator.” A news release about his indictment said that he faced charges “stemming from two shockingly brazen attacks that targeted young girls in Cleveland and Elyria.”
Christian has been charged with three counts of rape, eight counts of kidnapping, two counts of aggravated burglary and one count of tampering with evidence, according to the release. The FBI said in a news release that Christian was arrested without incident at his Ohio home.
Arrest made in May 21, 2016 westside abduction case. Justin Christian, wm, 29, is behind bars. Collaborative law enforcement effort. pic.twitter.com/qrmbwfSUB2
— Cleveland Police (@CLEpolice) December 5, 2016
“This case really represents the worst fears of any parent,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said at the news conference. “I will tell you that the men and women who worked on this case are parents, some are grandparents, and they felt this case very, very much. And they did everything they could in their power to take this predator off the streets.”
According to DeWine, Christian’s arrest came after authorities utilized a new tool, called a familial DNA search. It marked the first time such a search has been conducted by the state of Ohio, DeWine said.
DeWine described familial DNA as a tool that can point law enforcement in the right direction on a case. Authorities still need to conduct “old-fashioned police work” after a potential DNA match, he said, but the search could provide a strong lead when all other efforts have failed, and a danger to the public remains.
“And that was the situation in this case,” DeWine said.
A familial DNA search identifies a person who is a genetic near-match to a suspect — such as a sibling, a parent, a child. From there, scientists pull DNA samples on potential matches and conduct additional testing. The same type of testing was used in California’s “Grim Sleeper” case, which involved a serial killer who was eventually convicted in the murders of several women and a teenager.
DeWine said in a phone interview that authorities in Ohio have studied what other states have done with familial DNA and developed a protocol. After they received software for the searches, they conducted trial runs, he said, and had been waiting for the right case. The Christian case was appropriate because officials had exhausted all other leads and avenues, he said, and authorities were still stumped.
“We had a guy who was what we believed was someone who would continue to commit these crimes. He was out there, he was active,” DeWine said. “We really faced a choice of, if we did not use this family DNA, the only way we were going to get this guy was for him to commit another crime, and maybe get lucky or maybe he made a mistake. And so that was not an acceptable alternative. We don’t want to wait until someone else is victimized.”
He continued: “We’d come to a conclusion that that is the only way we’re going to get him. He would have to commit another crime, or two crimes, or three crimes. So that was just not acceptable.”
The suspect’s father, Jimmy Christian, spoke with a local FOX affiliate, saying that after he saw security footage that investigators released, he spoke with his son, mentioning a resemblance he had with the person in the video.
“I said something to Justin. I said, ‘Hey, Justin, this could be you,’ ” he told Fox 8 News. “But because it wasn’t in my son’s character, whatever he said, that conversation never came up again.”
Jimmy Christian told the station that he has spoken with his son via telephone.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “This is devastating to our family.”
According to the station, Jimmy Christian also added: “They’re somebody’s children. He went to somebody’s house. It’s crazy.”