A missing Maine teenager was found safe in Georgia on Tuesday after police tracked her to the home of a 35-year-old man who fatally shot himself when officers arrived at his door, authorities said.
Local police in Smyrna, Georgia, found Heavenlee Benjamin, 14, at the home of Robert Gooden, who turned a gun on himself the moment officers entered his house to arrest him on a misdemeanor charge of criminal restraint, according to Maine State Police Sgt. Blaine Bronson. Benjamin was not injured, police said.
Gooden met the teen online in late February, then traveled to Maine and took her back to Georgia, Bronson said, adding that Benjamin appears to have gone with him willingly. She was reported missing from her Readfield foster home on Feb. 28, the day after Gooden took a bus to Maine to meet her, he said.
Authorities know little about Gooden or what motivated him, Bronson said. But Benjamin’s disappearance launched one of the most extensive, involved searches for a missing Maine teenager he’s seen over his 22-year career in law enforcement.
When teenagers go missing in Maine, they usually turn up a few days later at a friend’s house or reveal where they might be on social media, Bronson said.
But in the days after she went missing, Benjamin left no traces.
“As a cop you get this sick feeling, like this isn’t right,” Bronson recalled.
It wasn’t until investigators searched her computer and discovered her communications with Gooden that police were able to track her to Georgia. By the time she was found, 12 Maine investigators had worked the case, he said.
Benjamin is now in the custody of Georgia child protective services, who are working with Maine officials with the Department of Health and Human Services to get her back to her foster parents in Readfield, Bronson said.
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