Girl who hid out to avoid Pakistani arranged marriage is in protective custody
A 13-year-old Hesperia girl and three siblings were in protective custody Thursday morning after authorities discovered the girl holed up at a motel to avoid being taken to Pakistan for an arranged marriage.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officials said detectives found Jessie Marie Bender safe and in good condition in an Apple Valley motel, where she was being hidden by another family member.
Bender’s mother had told detectives that her daughter did not want to go on a two-month family trip to Pakistan and ran away. She later told police her daughter may have been abducted by someone she had been corresponding with on Facebook, triggering a massive search for the teenager that included local law enforcement, the FBI, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S.Marshals Service and detectives from the Los Angeles and Chicago police departments.
After combing through cellphone records and computer data and interviewing her friends and families, however, sheriff’s detectives found no evidence that her disappearance was related to her correspondence on Facebook and that the family’s initial reports were false.
“Bender family members misled detectives and withheld critical information and as a result delayed the investigation and recovery of their daughter Jesse Bender," sheriff’s spokeswoman Roxanne Walker said in a news release. “It was revealed that a member of the Bender family concealed Jess in the town of Apple Valley out of fear that she would be taken to Pakistan for an arranged marriage."
The investigation is ongoing and will be forwarded to the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office for review.
-- Phil Willon
Photo: KTLA News