Earl Melchert was supposed to be at work on the afternoon of 5 September, managing a fertiliser plant in a western Minnesota town.
He returned briefly to get a diesel can he wanted to fill on his way home, so he could mow his lawn that evening. As he prepared to head back to work in Elbow Lake, Minnesota, he saw something moving in his field.
“I thought at first it was a deer,” Melchert, 65, said in an interview on Saturday.
What he saw, it turned out, was Jasmine Block, 15, who had disappeared on 8 August from her home in Alexandria, Minnesota, about 30 miles from Melchert’s home.
“I could make out her face, and I went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the gal from Alexandria that’s been gone for 29 days,'” Melchert said. “It’d been on the news, it’d been online. It went national. It was on posters, in stores, her face, her picture. Right away I recognised her.”
She had escaped from a nearby abandoned house, where three men who abducted her had kept her for the previous few days. After knocking on the doors of several homes and not getting any responses, she swam across the lake near Melchert’s property to get to his house.
Block had been at home alone when she encountered Thomas Barker, 32, outside her house. He told her he needed help with a family situation, Richard Wyffels, the Alexandria police chief, said at a news conference. Barker was a family acquaintance, Wyffels said, so Block agreed to accompany him.
At Barker’s house, he restrained Block, and for the next 29 days, Barker and two other men, Joshua Holby, 31, and Steven Powers, 20, sexually and physically assaulted her, police said.
They moved her several times, ending near Melchert’s property. On 5 September, the men went to get food, leaving her alone for the first time.
Shaken as she was after her escape, she was still able to help police find her kidnappers.
On Friday, the Alexandria Police Department presented Melchert with a $7,000 reward.
Melchert gave it to Block.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Melchert.
The New York Times
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