Fri, Jul 18, 2003 - Page 6 News List

British schoolgirl returns home, ex-Marine arrested

AP , LONDON

Shevaun Pennington, 12, left, and her mother Joanna leave Leigh police station in Manchester, England, after being reunited.

PHOTO: AP

A 12-year-old British girl flew home to her distraught parents Wednesday as the former US Marine she ran off with four days ago was arrested in Germany on charges of abduction.

Toby Studabaker, 31, and Shevaun Pennington, the schoolgirl he met in an Internet chat room, had evaded police since they left Britain together Saturday on a flight to Paris.

Shevaun's parents in northwest England made public appeals for her safe return, and Studabaker's family in Michigan said the ex-Marine had thought the girl, with whom he had discussed marriage, was 18 or 19.

Police said the pair had separated by the time Studabaker was arrested for alleged abduction under an international warrant in Frankfurt on Wednesday afternoon.

They said Studabaker had contacted the FBI at lunchtime and then was arrested by Frankfurt police. Shevaun was already on her way home, flying back to Manchester in northern England via Amsterdam from Stuttgart.

German authorities said they were investigating whether Studabaker could be extradited and whether he could be charged with child abuse in Germany. He is expected to be brought before a judge Thursday.

Shevaun was reunited with her parents, Stephen and Joanna Pennington, at a police station near her home in Lowton, northwest England.

"I am not aware that she has been harmed in any way, but again we haven't had the opportunity to speak with her yet," said police Superintendent Peter Mason as he told reporters of Studabaker's arrest and Shevaun's arrival in Britain.

In a brief, televised interview Wednesday, Joanna Pennington wept as she thanked police for the "team effort" that brought her daughter home.

"I cannot tell you how relieved I am," she said, with her husband Stephen seated nearby. "It is absolutely fantastic."

The Penningtons said they received a phone call from their daughter Wednesday morning and immediately started making arrangements for her return.

Shevaun and Studabaker had corresponded on the Internet for several months before the Michigan man flew into Manchester Airport in northern England on Saturday for their first meeting.

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