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Suspect faces child rape charges in Federal Way kidnapping | Target employee is crucial witness
An 8-year-old girl is home safe — and a Tacoma man is in jail awaiting first-degree child rape charges — after allegedly kidnapping the third-grader from a Federal Way elementary school playground Monday evening and sexually assaulting her.
Benjamin H. Trinh, 28, was arrested at his home in South Tacoma on Tuesday and booked into King County Jail in Seattle on investigation of first-degree rape of a child, first-degree kidnapping and child luring, according to Federal Way police.
Trinh had been spotted several times over the past week around a playground next to Olympic View Elementary School, taking pictures and speaking to children, Federal Way police said.
Bail was set at $1 million at a hearing Wednesday in Seattle. The deadline for filing charges against Trinh is April 15, according to Dan Donahoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office. According to police, Trinh is not a registered sex offender.
Police originally said there were no indications of a sexual assault after the girl walked home around 10:30 p.m. Monday with a “Scooby Doo” DVD movie. She didn’t appear to be physically hurt and showed no signs of being upset, said Federal Way police spokeswoman Cathy Schrock. The girl also denied anything suspicious had occurred.
After further investigation and interviews Tuesday, police gathered enough information that there was probable cause that she was raped by the man in his Tacoma home.
“We now believe that she was sexually assaulted,” Schrock said.
According to a statement of probable cause, Trinh admitted to police during an interview Tuesday to sexually assaulting the girl and taking photos while doing so.
Police issued a statewide Amber Alert shortly after 7 p.m. Monday after the girl’s mother reported her missing. The alert said the girl was last seen by her mother at 6:30 p.m. at Olympic View Elementary. The alert was canceled when the 8-year-old walked up to the family’s home several hours later, around 10:30 p.m.
According to police, the third-grader came to the Olympic View playground, accompanied by other children, earlier in the evening. Other children noticed her talking with an Asian man who appeared to be in his 20s.
Sometime after that, other children realized that both the girl and the man were no longer in the area, according to police.
The girl’s mother immediately reported her missing to police, who notified the Federal Way School District. School district officials then initiated a call to all Olympic View parents asking if anyone knew the girl’s location or had seen her.
Police credit an employee at the Federal Way Target store for the subsequent arrest of Trinh on Tuesday in Tacoma. Police used surveillance video from the store, along with credit card receipts from items he bought the girl, to locate his Tacoma address.
The Target employee, a mother herself, received the Amber Alert over her cell phone Monday night and recognized the girl in the photo. The employee remembered seeing the 8-year-old with an Asian man earlier in the evening around the fitting rooms inside Target, according to police.
Other employees stated that the man was acting bizarrely while the girl was trying on clothes. By the time police arrived, the man and girl had already left Target.
Cindy Dracobly, principal at Olympic View, sent a letter home to all parents and guardians Tuesday regarding the Amber Alert.
“Children should also know that the way this man has been acting — making conversation with children he does not know and taking their pictures — is not OK,” Dracobly wrote. “They should tell an adult when this sort of thing happens.”
Counselors have been available to students and have spoken in several classes at Olympic View following the incident. The district said that teachers have been reviewing safety procedures with students, and officials have met with all playground supervisors.
“Our number-one priority is the safety of our students and staff,” Dracobly stated. “While we cannot monitor the playground during the evenings or weekends, we want parents to be aware of this situation and to reinforce safety measures with their children.”
The school district’s letter lists several action items regarding students’ interaction with strangers, including tips like always playing with a friend, not getting into a vehicle with a stranger and not allowing a stranger to get close enough to reach you.