SEATTLE » Law enforcement officers searching for a 6-year-old Washington state girl who vanished last weekend say they’re aware of a past molestation charge against her father but are focused right now on finding little Jenise Wright.
Court records show James Wright was charged more than a decade ago with molesting two girls, ages 8 and 15. He pleaded guilty in Whatcom County Superior Court in December 2001 to a misdemeanor assault charge related to the older girl. It was not immediately clear why the molestation charges were dropped. Prosecutors there did not immediately return a call.
"That has nothing to do with this investigation right now," Kitsap County sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson said at a news briefing Wednesday.
"Our main issue here is Jenise, getting her returned home to her family safely," Wilson added. Of her parents, he said: "I can’t emphasize enough how cooperative they both have been with law enforcement authorities in the course of this investigation."
Investigators don’t know if the girl wandered off or was the victim of an accident, abduction or homicide.
"We’re hoping she’s fine. And that’s the expectation that we have," Wilson said Wednesday. But "we have to plan and execute our investigation as if it’s a worst-case scenario."
Law enforcement officials are asking nearby property owners to help by actively search their own land.
The little girl was last seen when she went to bed Saturday night at her home near Bremerton. Bremerton is on the west side of Puget Sound, across from Seattle.
Her family didn’t become worried and call for help until Sunday night because the child had left the home on previous occasions and wandered around the neighborhood, authorities have said. They felt it was relatively safe because the mobile home park is fenced.
The parents took FBI lie-detector tests Monday night, but the results have not been disclosed. Their home was also searched twice by different sets of authorities, Wilson said Wednesday.
A listed number for James Wright could not be found. The Bellingham defense attorney who represented him during the previous charges did not immediately return a call or email.
Dozens of officers from more than 15 law enforcement agencies including the FBI are involved in the search. Officers have been going door to door at the mobile home park. They were also pulling surveillance video from nearby businesses and checking in with sex offenders in the county.
According to court records, the girl’s father was charged with first-degree child molestation in February 2000, accused of molesting an 8-year-old girl following a New Year’s Eve celebration. The girl told a detective and case worker that he inappropriately touched her, according to court documents.
More than a year later, in June 2001, the charges were amended to include third-degree child molestation after a 15-year-old girl who was babysitting the girl during New Year’s Eve 2000 said that Wright touched her breasts and put his hands down her pants, according to court documents.
A judge in Whatcom County Superior Court sentenced Wright to a year in jail but suspended the entire jail time provided he followed certain conditions, including paying fees.