Police have questioned and will likely release a Level 1 sex offender after a 16-year-old special education student disappeared for some 15 hours, but was later found safe. But, prosecutors may still choose to file charges.
Terrence D. Powell, 21, was found with the girl in a Tacoma home following an Amber Alert.
Police said the girl, who is described as having the mental capacity of a 9-year-old, was also being questioned Wednesday before being returned to her parents, apparently unharmed. Her father is a Pierce County Sheriff’s Department detective.
The girl was at Tower Bowling Lanes with other members of the Wilson High School bowling team for a competition. When it was time to leave, she declined a ride with friends.
Surveillance video shows Powell inviting the girl to go with him. She talks with him and then the two walk out the front door.
“She’s very loving, very trusting young girl,” said Pierce County Sheriff's Department Capt. Brent Bomkamp “Somebody could come to her and befriend her and she would believe they have her best interests in mind right away.”
"I've never seen him here before last night," said Tower Lanes owner Bob Hanson. "I went back through the video one time and he was here on election night."
An Amber Alert was issued early Wednesday and police searched for her with tracking dogs and officers going door-to-door. A tip led investigators to the home of a Powell acquaintance.
A Tacoma Police spokesman said Powell would likely be released after questioning.
“It’s likely we'll turn the case over to prosecutors and let them decide whether charges should be filed,” said spokesman Mark Fulghum.
Powell's Level 1 classification is the lowest level and applied to people, many of them first-time offenders, considered at minimal risk to reoffend. Court records indicate Powell was charged in 2010 with immoral communication with a minor, but the case was dismissed. Tacoma Police could not say why Powell is registered as a sex offender.
The school district said that, at school activities, it is up to the students to find a ride home. In this case, the girl had a ride with friends, but decided not to take it.
KING 5's Jake Whittenberg contributed to this report