HENRY COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — New details have been uncovered in the case of a once-missing 12-year-old girl from Henry County and her alleged captor, 21-year-old Kaleb Merritt.
On Feb. 13 — the day after the girl was reported missing from her home in Bassett — the Henry County Sheriff’s Office announced the Henderson Police Department found the girl with Merritt in North Carolina.
We now know Merritt may have been in contact with other young girls.
The 12-year-old girl returned home to Bassett, but her neighbors are still in disbelief.
“We had to explain to my oldest, she’s eight going on nine, and we had to explain to her not everyone is friendly, not everyone is nice, and not everyone has good intentions,” a neighbor said.
This mother of three — who lives down the street from the victim — did not want to share her identity, but she told WFXR News the experience is impacting her young daughter.
“She got nervous the other day going in our yard,” the neighbor said. “She was like, ‘I don’t want someone to kidnap me.'”
Merritt was reportedly chatting with the 12-year-old girl on an app called “Discord,” which the girl used to send multiple videos with her body exposed to Merritt.
Once authorities arrived at her home in Bassett to warn her guardian, Merritt told her to get out, leave, and hide her phone.
Investigators believe that’s when she left with them. However, the two were stopped in Henderson, North Carolina.
Even though the girl is back home in Henry County, Merritt is still across state lines.
“It is his right to challenge extradition, or not,” said M. Andrew Nester, the Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney. “The overwhelming majority of people wave extradition, but for those who don’t then the governors of each state get involved, their offices, and we seek what’s called a Governor’s warrant.”
That process could take up to three months, but when coupled with the pandemic, it could be late summer before Merritt has a preliminary hearing.
For now, Henry County authorities say a second investigation is ongoing with another possible victim.
Following this experience, the 12-year-old girl’s neighbor is urging children to speak up and hoping those impacted by nightmares such as this will heal.
“Anything that you feel uncomfortable about, always talk to your parents, always be honest, because there’s nothing in this world that your parents, they don’t ever want you gone,” the neighbor said.
Merritt is set to appear in court on Monday, March 1 in Henderson, North Carolina for his extradition hearing.
He faces three counts of rape of a child less than 13-years-old, computer solicitation of a child, and abduction of a minor to manufacture child pornography.