SOMERSET, Pa. (KDKA) — Police and FBI say technology has helped them to solve a 20-year-old kidnapping cold case in Somerset County using DNA and fingerprints.
Timothy Nelson is accused of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl in the Village of Cairnbrook in 1999. After years of investigation, police arrested Nelson Tuesday in Cumberland, Maryland.
The state trooper who has worked the case from the beginning says it helps bring closure not just to the girl in Somerset County, but to the victims of the similar incidents found through DNA evidence.
“It’s not about me, it’s about bringing closure to the girls. They move on, they have their lives that they lead, but I just have a hard time believing that they weren’t thinking, ‘Where did he ever go? Is he still alive? Is he dead? Where does he live? Does he live down the street from me? Or does he live thousands of miles away?’ You don’t know. But by getting to this point, they now do know. To me, that’s the most important thing,” said Tpr. Jeff Brock.
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It all started at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 19, 1999, when state police in Somerset County received a 911 phone call about a 10-year-old girl being abducted.
Police responded to the scene and interviewed two other children who were with the little girl.
“Those children related to us that a vehicle had driven by them a couple times they believed to be teal in color. A white male had gotten out of the vehicle and grabbed their friend, this young 10-year-old child, and threw her into the vehicle through the driver’s side door,” said Tpr. Stephen Limani, of Pennsylvania State Police. “That driver had jumped into the vehicle and fled the area, traveling on state Route 160.”
According to police, Nelson was armed and threatened to shoot the girl if she didn’t stop screaming. At one point, he allegedly hit her across the face.
State police say he pulled off to the side of the road twice, once on state Route 160 and again on state Route 26, and sexually assaulted the girl. In the second incident, police say a paper bag was used to clean up the incident.
“What was instrumental in our investigation is he took that paper bag and threw it out the window of his vehicle,” said Tpr. Limani.
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The suspect then drove another short distance before deciding to let the girl go, police said. He told her to count to 100, walk to a gas station and call her parents, but a passerby stopped to help the girl as she walked along the side of the road near the West Virginia border.
“The state police at the satellite station down in Uniontown was contacted and they went down and started to interview the 10-year-old child and the passerby, and were able to find out that she was sexually assaulted not too far from where she was abandoned. So they started to scour the area around state Route 26 and subsequently came across a brown bag,” said Tpr. Limani. “We found prints on that bag and that was all sent to the FBI lab for analysis.”
At that time, the DNA profile collected from the bag didn’t come back with any matches.
Police didn’t have any leads in the case until 2004 when that DNA evidence linked the Somerset kidnapping to two unsolved kidnappings in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Then, late last year, police say they identified Nelson through fingerprints.
He is now being held in the Somerset County Jail on $750,000 straight cash bond.
Brock was the lead investigator. Brock wanted to find the person responsible for the crime before he retired.
“I’d been carrying this around for over 19 years, and I had to try one more thing,” he said Thursday.
Brock asked the FBI to run the fingerprints on the bag one more time.
“[The FBI] called me about a week later and asked me, are you sitting down? I was like, what are you doing to me? She said, we got a hit on the prints,” Brock said.
Brock notified the victim, who is now in her 30s, in person. He declined to discuss what was said or the woman’s reaction.
Investigators say they’ve also connected Nelson’s DNA to two other similar kidnappings and sexual assaults of young girls.
The FBI is now taking over the case.