HENRY COUNTY, Va. -- The Texas man accused of abducting a 12-year-old Virginia girl that prompted an AMBER Alert had set up camp behind the child's home, according to deputies.
Officials with the Henry County Sheriff's Office said Allie Michele Broadaway, who was reported missing from her Bassett home Friday afternoon, was found with 21-year-old Kaleb Christopher Merritt Saturday near a restaurant in Henderson, North Carolina.
"Broadaway was found safe and checked by EMS for minor injuries," deputies said.
"Allie is a runaway. Our investigators are down there on the way now as well as federal investigators," Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said. "She will be spoken to. We will be asking her about what happened... We will be processing the vehicle that was used in conjunction with this crime and our investigators will return Allie to her family."
Officials said Merritt was taken into custody by Henderson Police, but have not said what charges he is facing.
Investigators: Suspect met girl on Instagram
Deputies said the Spring, Texas, man connected with the 12-year-old via Instagram in December.
"They communicated via social media until Merritt traveled to Virginia in early February 2021 to meet with Broadaway," deputies said.
Investigators discovered a camp in the woods behind the family's home where Merritt met the girl "on several occasions," according to officials with the the sheriff's office.
Deputies said the suspect chatted with the girl and gave her instructions via a messaging app.
"Merritt coerced Broadaway to leave her home and he subsequently picked her up," deputies said.
Officials said they received a tip that led them to believe Merritt was in Henderson, where the pair were located.
"We actually don't want to go into what the tip was," Perry said. "But we did have a lead he came in. And he gave us some electronic information to begin following."
Deputies thanked the FBI and the Henderson Police Department for their help in the case.
An AMBER Alert was issued for the missing child just before 10 p.m. Friday.
Sheriff: 'There was a predator in our area'
Perry asked parents to have "conversations" with their children about the dangers they face online.
"The electronic world can introduce very dangerous people to your home that you have no idea," Perry said. "Don't just take [your child's] word that they're not doing things they're not supposed to. Talk to them. Check the devices. Use the authority you have."
Perry called the abduction case "proof positive that there was a predator in our area."
"He was preying on young women stayed in our area for a few days," Perry said, but did not elaborate when asked about other possible victims.
"There's been a lot of communication is taking place and we will unravel this," Perry said. "The people who specialize in what you kind of can call electronic footprints and fingerprints and where they lead."
But Perry did say Merritt had been in communication "with people in the area" likely via what the sheriff called chat rooms.
Perry also urged young people to be careful about what they post online.
"Do not take images of yourself," Perry urged. "Be careful. And in these instances, the person you start talking to, is generally not the person that is dangerous to you... These situations can change and this is proof positive."
The Henry County Sheriff's Office, Virginia Slate Police and FBI are investigating the incident.
Anyone having information about the case is urged to call the Henry County Sheriff's Office at 276-638-8751 or Crimestoppers at 63-CRIME (63-7463).
"The Crimestoppers Program offers rewards up to $2500 for information related to crime," deputies said.
This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email email@example.com to send a tip.