Roanoke, Va. – A Tennessee teenager reported missing last month was found Tuesday morning in Smyth County, Virginia, according to a report from WDBJ in Roanoke.
Hayleigh Wilson, 14, was found with 41-year-old known sex offender Benjamin Shook.
Wilson has been missing since June 22nd when she took her father’s 2004 Ford Explorer and drove off to pick up Shook, police say.
Originally from Georgia, Shook has a long criminal history, including sexual battery and exploitation. He served 10 years in prison and was released in September 2014. Police say he registered once as a sex offender, but did not update his information afterward.
On Monday, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) announced a $5,000 reward for information on Wilson’s whereabouts.
“The Marshals Service is fully engaged and partnering with local authorities in recovering this critically missing child,” said U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton. “Shook is a known sexual predator and a threat to Hayleigh and others. We need the public’s help to apprehend Shook and safely recover Hayleigh.”
Marshals believe that the girl met Shook online.
Online app meeting
“It looks like both the child and the suspect met on an online app” called Kik, Hammonds said. On its website, Kik says it has 200 million users.
The website Be Web Smart, which aims to help parents understand their children’s digital world, expressed concern about use of the app by children in a 2014 article, updated a few weeks ago. It notes that while many people use Kik to simply send messages to friends, because “it is very popular for sexting … it is not a good choice for kids.” Kik is rated 17+ in Apple’s App Store.
Hammond also expressed concern about the use of such apps by children. “These kids talking to these people on these chat apps and they really don’t know who they are talking to,” he said. “It is really a dangerous thing.”
Amber Alert issued
An Amber Alert was issued after Hayleigh, wearing a sleeveless, flowery top and dark shorts or skirt, was seen at a Walmart Tuesday morning in Marion, North Carolina, with Shook, who has an active warrant out for failure to register as a sex offender. “We have no idea where they could be headed,” Hammonds said. “And it looks like they were buying tenting equipment at the Walmart.”
The CNN Wire contributed to this report.