Washington man charged with kidnapping, raping mentally challenged woman

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When a 19-year-old mentally disabled woman disappeared in July from her neighborhood in Wheeling, W.Va., her family and dozens of neighbors spent four days hunting for her until police found her walking on a street near her home.

Now federal authorities and police believe they know what happened to her.

The FBI says Jesus Tapia, a 37-year-old roofer from Washington, Pa., kidnapped her and took her to his house in Washington, where he and another man raped her repeatedly between July 7 and July 11.

A federal grand jury in Clarksburg, W.Va., indicted Mr. Tapia on Wednesday, charging him with five felonies that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.

The FBI is searching for the second man, who could be using the name "Elmer" or "Omar" and was known to be a constant companion of Mr. Tapia.

Federal prosecutors are also working with immigration authorities to determine the residency status of Mr. Tapia.

"We do not believe he is here legally," said William Ihlenfeld II, the U.S. attorney in Wheeling.

The Post-Gazette does not name the alleged victims in sex cases.

According to an FBI affidavit, Mr. Tapia and "Elmer," believed to be Mr. Tapia's boss on roofing jobs in the Washington area, kidnapped the woman on July 7 from the street near her home in the Elm Grove section of Wheeling.

They drove her to the West Wylie Avenue home in Washington where Mr. Tapia lives and held her captive for four days.

They then returned her to Wheeling on July 11, where police found her walking toward her home in Elm Grove.

Mr. Ihlenfeld said the men may have returned her after becoming aware of the neighborhood search in Wheeling, which was broadcast on TV and reported in the newspapers.

Piecing together what happened to the woman was difficult, he said, because she has limited understanding.

But they had evidence right from the start.

When police found her, they discovered a July 10 cash register receipt in her pocket from the McDonald's on Jefferson Avenue in Washington, and the change in her pocket matched the amount listed on the receipt. The woman said she had been taken to a McDonald's by the men.

The FBI said she was also carrying a gum wrapper with the name "Jesus" on it and a cell number that agents traced to Mr. Tapia.

The woman said the two men who grabbed her near a convenience store spoke broken English, but she could not describe them, their vehicle or where they went.

But Wheeling police and the FBI were able to retrace Mr. Tapia's movements by his cell phone records.

To bolster the evidence provided by the phone records, the FBI also interviewed a cooperating witness on Aug. 30, who said she had been in constant contact with Mr. Tapia by cell phone for the past several months.

Mr. Tapia was arrested Friday and ordered held in the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville, W.Va., without bond.

The young woman is back home, Mr. Ihlenfeld said, "and doing as well as can be expected."

region - neigh_washington

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published September 6, 2012 11:15 AM


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