Update: Teen girl swam to escape captors; three men arrested
After 29 days of being held against her will, 15-year-old Jasmine Block escaped and swam across a small rural lake in Grant County, bravely reaching out for help.
Jasmine, who went missing on Aug. 8, was hailed as a strong and amazing young woman by Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels during a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 6.
Three men were arrested in connection to the case and taken into custody Tuesday afternoon. They are Thomas Barker, 32, of Carlos; Steven Powers, 20, of Mankato; and Joshua Holby, 31, of Carlos. Barker and Holby reportedly were roommates and Powers arrived at Barker’s residence about two weeks after the abduction.
According to Wyffels, Barker, an acquaintance of the Block family, approached Jasmine outside her home about 11 p.m. Aug. 8 telling her he needed help with a family situation. Because she knew him, she entered his vehicle and then he drove to his house in Carlos.
“Once inside the home, her nightmare was just beginning,” Wyffels said. “Barker tied her up with zip-ties and then he, his roommate and a friend repeatedly assaulted Miss Block and threatened her with weapons.”
He said the girl was physically and sexually assaulted during the four-week period.
During her captivity, the three men took her to several locations including a foreclosed lake home in Grant County. It was at this location that the three men eventually left her alone when they left to get some food. During her time with the suspects, Wyffels said they kept her in a closet or other location where she couldn’t be seen or heard.
But police said the men left her at the lake home while they went for lunch.
“This was the first time she was left alone in 29 days,” Wyffels said.
When she escaped, the chief said Jasmine “bravely ran door to door” trying to find help and that she eventually swam across a portion of Thompson Lake east of Barrett, when she found a man and asked him to call 911. She identified herself as Jasmine Block to the man, but Wyffels said the man already knew who she was because her disappearance was g in the news.
The police chief said the man, a farmer in the area, who has asked not to be named, decided the best place to bring her was to a “local community.” The two got in the farmer’s car and were headed to Elbow Lake when Block recognized one of the vehicles of the suspect. Because they were on the phone with a law enforcement dispatcher, Block and the farmer were able to provide information about the vehicle and law enforcement was able to find the vehicle and pull it over.
“Mr. Powers (who was driving that vehicle) was then arrested,” Wyffels said. The other two men, Barker and Holby, were together in a different vehicle. After information was sent out to law enforcement officials about the suspect vehicle, a state trooper in the Glenwood area spotted it. Both men were arrested at a residence in Glenwood.
Wyffels said the men are being held in the Douglas County Jail for probable cause on false imprisonment, kidnapping and assault. Specific charges are pending as the investigation continues, he said.
Wyffels said he is not sure as to why Barker targeted the young girl. As for any criminal records, he said the men do have some criminal history, but nothing of this nature or nothing that would indicate why they would do this. He said he had no explanation as to why anyone who do this. He also said that drugs could have been involved as far as the suspects were concerned, but that it is still under investigation.
“We are not all done,” the chief said. “We will continue building on the information.”
Wyffels said the police department is asking for the public’s help in this case. He wants farmers in the area to contact the police department if they have any damage to their corn fields that could have happened from a vehicle driving through them. In addition, he wants anglers on Thompson Lake or residents who live around the lake to keep their eyes open for any clothing that may get washed up on shore or a shoe that could be floating on the lake. He said Jasmine lost her pants and shoe when she was swimming across the lake.
“Jasmine is an unbelieveable young woman and this is an amazing story,” Wyffels said. “She had a lot of strength and we are so proud of her.”