Mystery deepens over girl who flew to France with US marine

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The Independent Online

Mystery about the whereabouts of missing schoolgirl Shevaun Pennington deepened tonight after French police said she only stayed in Paris for a short time before flying back the UK.

Detectives in Greater Manchester, where Shevaun lived, believe the 12–year–old girl and ex–US Marine Toby Studabaker, aged 31, flew to Paris together on Saturday.

But tonight French police said Shevaun flew back to the UK about an hour after arriving at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport.

Mr Studabaker was not on the Easyjet flight back to Liverpool, a spokesman said.

"We believe Shevaun took the flight with five other people to Liverpool. It was an Easyjet flight and left at 22.40. Shevaun would have stayed in the international zone for one hour before returning to the UK," the French police spokesman said.

But Greater Manchester police were doubtful whether Shevaun had in fact returned to Britainn. A spokesman at Leigh police station said a passenger listed on the Paris–John Lennon airport flight as S.Pennington was a member of a party which had pre–booked the flight.

Earlier the French authorities had still been insisting there was no evidence to say Shevaun had ever arrived in the country.

The pair met up on Saturday and were thought to have caught a flight from Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport that evening.

Detectives are also looking into reports that Studabaker, who left the Marines last month, had faced sex assault accusations with an under–age girl in the US in the late 1990s. The alleged case was not pursued.

Mr Studabaker is known to have flown to the UK via the Netherlands on Friday and arrived in Manchester early on Saturday morning before flying out, with the girl, from Heathrow.

Earlier today his family urged the ex–soldier, who was based in North Carolina and had served in Afghanistan, to give himself up and return the youngster.

His brother Leo said he had told them he was going to meet a 19–year–old girl and had even talked of marriage and children.

He said: "If he had known she wasn't the age she said she was, he wouldn't have agreed to meet her."

Leo's wife Sherry added: "I would tell him that he needs to go to the nearest authorities and turn her in too."

Mr Studabaker attended the Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, from 1993 to 1994. He spoke on its website of how he was able to "draw closer" to God.

Police forces across Europe are now on the look–out for the pair.

The alarm was first raised by Shevaun's parents on Saturday night after she disappeared.

A search of her belongings and computer files revealed she had been regularly corresponding with Studabaker.

SMr Studabaker's wife Jenny died from cancer last year, his family said, and the couple did not have any children.

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