Abducted Philadelphia Girl Frees Self by Gnawing Through Tape and Breaks Window to Get Help


PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Bound, blindfolded and left in a dirty basement for nearly 24 hours, a 7-year-old kidnapped girl gnawed through duct tape and made her way to freedom, ending the latest in a series of high-profile abductions around the nation.

While being held in a police officer's arms, Erica Pratt waved to TV cameras and beamed as she was returned to her grandmother's home late Tuesday. Police said she suffered only minor injuries.

Authorities were searching for James Burns, 29, and Edward Johnson, 23, who are considered suspects in the abduction. Police said the men were known to the girl's family and that their names had been provided by two witnesses.

"Our biggest concern is that the baby come back to us in good health and this is what she did," said the girl's great-grandmother, Geraldine Tate.

Erica was playing Monday with her 5-year-old sister in front of their grandmother's rowhouse in southwest Philadelphia when two men drove up, called her by name and dragged her into their car as she screamed and resisted, witnesses told police.

The girl had been left on a mattress in the basement of a building 10 miles from her home. Duct tape was wrapped around her eyes, arms and legs and she only had a can of water for nearly 24 hours, police said.

She was eventually able to free herself from the tape, break through the basement door and go up to the first floor. Unable to escape, she smashed a window and called out for help to some children playing in front of the house.

The children pulled Erica out of the window, and one of them rode their bike from the abandoned building to where police officers were on patrol, Lt. Michael Chitwood said.

Erica was taken to a hospital, where doctors evaluated her and removed the duct tape stuck in her hair. Police said she had a corneal abrasion on one eye, possibly from the tape.

"She's an amazing little girl," Chief Inspector Robert M. Davis said.

The news of Erica's escape comes a day after a factory worker was charged with murder in the abduction and slaying of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion from Santa Ana, Calif.

Her slaying followed the high-profile abductions of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City, 7-year-old Danielle van Dam in San Diego and 2-year-old Jahi Turner, also in San Diego.

Danielle' body was found and a neighbor is on trial. Elizabeth and Jahi remain missing.

Less than 20 minutes after Erica was abducted, the girl's grandmother and primary caregiver, Barbara Pratt, received the first of at least six calls from a man who threatened to kill the girl unless he received a $150,000 ransom, police said.

During one call, police said the kidnappers allowed Erica to speak briefly with her grandmother.

Residents said many adults in the neighborhood were down the street at a block party at the time of the abduction. The area is pockmarked with abandoned buildings and roamed at night by drug dealers.

The abduction is the second tragedy to strike the family this year. One of Barbara Pratt's adult sons was murdered in March, neighbors said.

Police were investigating whether a neighborhood rumor that the family had gotten a large insurance payment after the murder may have motivated the ransom demand. The family told police that the rumor was untrue.

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