A retired Minnesota farmer lauded for his part in saving a 15-year-old girl who was abducted and held against her will for a month this summer is once again receiving praise after he accepted a $7,000 reward in the case, but turned around and gave it to the teen instead.
Earl Melchert was presented the reward money by the Alexandria Police Department. Police Chief Rick Wyffels awarded the money to Melchert in a ceremony on Friday.
Melchert surprised everybody with his decision to give the cash to Jasmine Block and her family.
“What no one expected was the kindness and generosity that came straight from Earl’s heart today,” Wyffels wrote on Facebook. “He believes that young lady that came running towards him that September day is the real hero and, without hesitation, Earl handed the reward over to her, followed by a big hug.”
Jasmine’s name was previously withheld because of her crime victim status, but the teen has since spoken out to local Minnesota news stations about her ordeal and her return home.
“Sometimes, (I feel) good,” Jasmine told KMSP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul. “Sometimes, not great. Like sometimes, I have problems sleeping, because I close my eyes and I see their faces. I’m scared to sleep because I might have bad nightmares.”
Jasmine, who was reported missing Aug. 8, escaped Sept. 5 when her alleged captors left her alone to grab lunch 29 days into her abduction, Alexandria Police Department officials said shortly after her rescue. It was the first time the men, one of whom is the father of one of the teen’s friends, had left her unguarded, officials said.
After running from door to door and knocking, to no avail, she swam across a portion of a nearby lake, where she stumbled upon Melchert, who had returned home from work to retrieve something he’d forgotten.
Melchert, who at first asked to remain anonymous, told WCCO, the local CBS affiliate, that he initially thought it was a deer in the grasslands on the rear of his property. When he realized it was a girl, he started to drive toward her and she began running toward his truck.
“When she come walking out of the grass, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, you got to be kidding me,’” Melchert told WCCO. “When I saw her face, I knew right away.”
He immediately recognized the girl from the photos and fliers circulated while she was missing, and called 911. The farmer told the news station that he was helping the victim out of his truck and into a patrol car when the girl shouted, “There’s the car, there’s the car.”
Deputies said they chased down the vehicle passing Melchert’s home and took the driver, Steven Michael Samuel Powers, 20, of Mankato, into custody.
A Minnesota state trooper arrested the two other alleged kidnappers, Thomas Jay Barker, 32, and Joshua Lee Holby, 31, both of Carlos, during a traffic stop a few hours later. All three men are charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
Barker and Powers are also charged with criminal sexual conduct.
Police said Barker, the friend’s father, lured Jasmine from her home by asking for her help with a situation with his son. She agreed, and he drove her to the home he and Holby shared, where the men restrained her and repeatedly assaulted her.
“I was usually in a closet, and I usually stayed quiet, because I was scared they might hit me or do something,” Jasmine told KMSP-TV.
The teen’s mother, Sarah Block, called her daughter a warrior.
“She’s probably the strongest person I have ever known,” Block told the news station.
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