CHECOTAH, Oklahoma - A missing teenage girl taken in North Carolina and found in Oklahoma will soon be reunited with her parents. Investigators said the suspect and the victim met online.

The two were found at a hotel in Checotah.

Warner police met the suspect just hours before his arrest but let him go. The officer who was face-to-face with Jordan Gardea said it's "unnerving" to learn the man was wanted for kidnapping but didn't know it at the time.

Jacob Gardea was arrested at the hotel in Checotah, wanted for kidnapping a 13-year-old girl from North Carolina. But hours before the scene unfolded, police say the two were spotted about 20 minutes away at a trailer in Warner.

Jacob Gardea

 

"They thought it was abandoned. That don't give you a right to go in my travel trailer," said Warner Resident Terry Chandler

Chandler said he questioned Gardea and the girl about why they were inside his trailer and they claimed to be from Albuquerque.

"He was trying to pay me. Give me money to let him go. And I said, 'No I don't want money," said Chandler.

Chandler called police instead. Lieutenant Daren Staley said when he showed up to the trailer Wednesday afternoon, he ran Gardea's ID and tag numbers, but nothing came up on any local or national databases.

He said the teen didn't have any ID on her and didn't seem to be in harm's way, so the officer let them both go.

"We were literally staring right in the face of a kidnapped, missing child and were unable to find that information," said Staley.

Staley said he's working to figure out why when he ran Gardea's name nothing came up in his system. The Rutherford County Sheriff told our CBS affiliate in North Carolina he believes Gardea and the girl met online and said it appears she willingly went away with him.


"We would have been able and ready and willing to do something about it if necessary. If we'd just had the information," said Staley.


"It's just crazy how things like that happen. You never know who you're talking to," said Terry Chandler.

Gardea is in the McIntosh County Jail. We've learned from officials in North Carolina that the girl's parents are driving to Oklahoma to pick her up.