For the second time in a week, St. Paul police are investigating the apparent abduction and sexual assault of a young child taken from city streets.
Mark S. Meihofer, 47, of St. Paul, was charged in Ramsey County District Court on Friday with kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault for his alleged role in the abduction of a 7-year-old girl who went missing from the 300 block of Dayton Avenue about 6:45 p.m. Thursday.
The child was later found in Meihofer’s room at a Catholic Charities residence and reunited with her family after receiving medical treatment, police said.
“This is an example of the important role residents play in helping officers do their job,” police spokesman Steve Linders said Friday. “Officers responded to the scene as quickly as possible and began looking for the girl, and the witnesses stepped up and provided invaluable information about a suspect.”
The girl’s father was checking on a property he owns in the area when the girl, who was out of his sight for only a minute, went missing, Linders said.
Officers immediately began canvassing the area, and were able to obtain descriptions from several witnesses of a man who had been in the area “acting strangely.”
About two hours after the girl disappeared, police zeroed in on a home in the 200 block of Marshall Avenue that is listed as St. Christopher Place, a Catholic Charities residence, one block away from the place where she was last seen.
According to the criminal complaint:
An employee at the building’s front desk recognized the description of the child and noted that Meihofer, a resident, had brought her to his room. Surveillance footage showed Meihofer carrying her inside the lobby earlier that evening.
Authorities went to Meihofer’s room and knocked. When they received no answer, police began taking the door off its hinges. Meihofer eventually opened the door, and officers saw the shape of a child under the bed’s blankets.
The girl had been gagged and her wrists bound with tape. She showed signs of sexual assault.
She later told officers that Meihofer had taken naked pictures of her and forced her to smoke a substance that tasted like “fire,” threatening her with violence if she disobeyed.
She later tested positive for amphetamine at Children’s Hospital.
Meihofer was booked Thursday night on kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct, commonly called rape.
While being escorted to a squad car, Meihofer said God made him do it.
“I was going to bring her home at nine. That’s when her dad gets home,” he said, according to the criminal complaint. “I only took pictures and she took pictures, too.”
The child told investigators Meihofer approached her as she attempted to go back inside the building for her dad, but the door locked automatically behind her. Meihofer said he’d help her find her father, then carried her to his own building.
“This case underscores the horrific nature and harm done by those who would prey on the most vulnerable in our community — our children,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “We will vigorously pursue justice in this case.
Meihofer does not appear to have sexual assault crimes on his record or any previous felonies.
In 2012, he was committed on mental health grounds by state authorities for 18 months, court records show.
Catholic Charities issued a written statement Friday about the incident, noting that it does not accept Level 3 sex offenders at any of its housing locations.
“What we know of the situation is tragic and unacceptable,” said the statement. “We are deeply troubled by what has happened. We will continue to work with the authorities and fully support the investigative process.”
No link to earlier case
Thursday’s case is apparently not linked to the apparent abduction and assault Monday of a 5-year-old girl. The girl was waiting for a school bus at the corner of Cook Avenue and Park Street when she was assaulted between 7:55 a.m. and 8:08 a.m. She described her assailant as a “big, older boy.”
Police have not called Monday’s incident a sexual assault, but said that a school bus driver found her with her underwear and pants around one leg, carrying a shoe in one hand.
Linders said authorities continue to look for a suspect in Monday’s incident. Anyone with information about the Monday case is asked to call police at 651-266-5685.
“It’s important for people to remember that these types of cases are incredibly unusual,” Linders said, “but at the same time, to be aware of and vigilant when it comes to keeping your kid safe. We all need to work together and look out for one another.”
Meihofer remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail and will make his first appearance in court on Monday afternoon.