Three men were charged Thursday with kidnapping a 15-year-old Alexandria girl and holding her captive for 29 days as they assaulted her numerous times, including rape and attempts to drown her in a bathtub.
The horrific details of the crime were released in a criminal complaint filed in Douglas County that charged Thomas Jay Barker, 32, and Joshua Lee Holby, 31, both of Carlos, Minn., and Steven Michael Samuel Powers, 20, of Benson, Minn., with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
Barker and Powers also were charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and Barker was charged with an additional count of second-degree assault.
The three men made their first court appearances Thursday. Bail was set at $2 million for Powers and Barker, and $1.5 million for Holby with no conditions. All three men's next hearings are set for Sept. 18.
"Our community never lost faith," Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said Thursday. "It's a horrific story and a wonderful ending in terms of her survival and courage."
The teenager was reunited with her family hours after saving herself, escaping from an abandoned rural house where she had been held captive. After thwarting several attempts to drown her, she escaped and swam across Thompson Lake in Grant County, running through a field to flag a farmer for help.
According to the complaint, the girl was approached around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 8 by Barker, the father of one of her friends, who asked her to try to talk to his son who wasn't behaving. She agreed, leaving her cellphone behind.
When the two arrived at his house, Barker used zip ties to restrain her, displayed a handgun and threatened to kill her before raping her, according to the complaint.
Meanwhile, the girl's mother reported her missing within three hours of her leaving with Barker.
For most of the 29 days, the girl told police, she was held in a closet in Barker's bedroom, fed fast food and water, and repeatedly assaulted.
Once, she told police, Barker placed her in a bathtub and restrained her with zip ties because, she believed, he wanted to drown her; she resisted, and eventually Barker gave up.
Another time, she said, Barker and Holby forced her into a duffel bag and then set the bag in the bathtub. But the girl, who weighs about 110 pounds, managed to stick her head out of a hole in the bag.
The men placed a rope or cord around her neck and made her stand on a bucket, forcing her off the bucket until she couldn't breathe, she told police.
Barker also forced her to have sex several times, and Powers forced her to have oral sex once, she said.
On Aug. 30, a deputy came to the home to investigate a stolen property report, but the three men sat inside silently. They decided to leave with the girl, placing her in a duffel bag in the back of a truck and concealing it. They drove to a cornfield and then to an abandoned house in Barrett, Minn., about 30 miles away, using a screwdriver to break in.
Police have since searched the property and collected evidence such as women's underwear, rope and a hypodermic needle, according to the complaint.
When the men left her alone for the first time in the foreclosed house to get some pizza and gas at a convenience store on Tuesday, the 15-year-old escaped, swimming across the lake and running through a field before reaching a farmer about a mile away.
He immediately recognized the girl — soaking wet, without shoes or pants — from missing person fliers posted in the area. While in the farmer's pickup truck, she saw Powers drive by and police quickly arrested him, according to the complaint.
A State Patrol trooper arrested Barker and Holby on Hwy. 28 between Glenwood and Starbuck after a statewide alert was issued.
"We are in awe of the strength and courage that [the girl] showed to find safety," the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center said online, urging the community to continue the search for other children who remain missing. The case shows "missing children come home every day," it said.
Wyffels said there had never before been a similar abduction in the city of about 13,000 residents. "In Alexandria, this is really out there and unexplainable and horrific," he said. "For our community, this is a shocker. It's terrible."
Police initially thought the girl was a runaway, since she had vanished without evidence of a crime. But Wyffels said the department treated the case seriously from the start, conducting searches in and around Alexandria and immediately contacting the FBI and state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He commended the girl's mother for not wavering in her push for authorities to find her daughter.
"Everyone was concerned," he said.