The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people.” — Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
PHILADELPHIA — The man accused of grabbing a Philadelphia woman off the street this week and taking her to Maryland has a history of violence, choking his ex-wife a decade ago and abducting a 16-year-old Virginia girl just last month with the intention of killing her, authorities say.
But neither of Delvin Barnes’ most recent victims submitted meekly, police said.
The teenager managed to escape as Barnes was digging her intended grave. A month later, 22-year-old Philadelphia resident Carlesha Freeland-Gaither fought her attacker even while bound — and left a breadcrumb for police in the form of her cellphone.
“She’s really a very, very strong young woman and just very, very lucky to have survived this,” Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told The Associated Press on Thursday, a day after federal agents rescued Freeland-Gaither and arrested her alleged abductor.
Barnes, 37, was charged federally with kidnapping. Court documents filed Thursday night said Barnes confessed and told authorities he didn’t know the victim, whose abduction Sunday night was captured on surveillance video seen nationwide.
Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found Barnes’ vehicle — its rear window kicked out by Freeland-Gaither — on a road in Jessup, Maryland, with Barnes and the kidnapped woman lying next to each other in the back seat. After her rescue, she was
taken to a hospital but was soon reunited with her mother and other family members, who took her home to Philadelphia.
“Obviously, she’s got a long recovery period. The psychological trauma is really something that you can’t measure,” Ramsey said. “It’s going to take time for those wounds to heal, if ever. But she’s home, that’s the main thing.”
Barnes was released a year ago after serving eight years in prison for a 2005 assault on his estranged wife and her family in Philadelphia. Barnes beat and choked her, punched her mother in the face and hit her father in the head with a glass bowl, court records show.
Pennsylvania’s parole board repeatedly denied Barnes early release because it said he lacked remorse and posed a threat to the community.
At the time of his arrest in the kidnapping case, Barnes was wanted in connection with the abduction of a 16-year-old Richmond girl who authorities say was hit in the head with a shovel, stuffed into the trunk of a car and taken to a weathered mobile home 30 miles southeast of Richmond. There, Barnes ordered the teen to take off her clothes, set them on fire and doused her in bleach and gasoline, said sheriff’s Capt. Jayson Crawley of Charles City County, Virginia.
She escaped while Barnes was digging a hole, he said.
Authorities identified Barnes as the assailant through DNA obtained from the victim. They also got a picture of Barnes’ vehicle from a traffic camera — and that turned out to be the big break that helped police find Freeland-Gaither.
Authorities spotted a used-car dealer’s name on the photo and recognized the dealership as one that routinely puts GPS devices on its cars. Crawley said the dealership sells to customers with poor credit and relies on GPS when it needs to find and repossess cars whose owners have fallen behind on the payments.
“We called the dealership, and within five minutes they had the location,” he said.
ATF agents surrounded the car Wednesday afternoon, took Barnes into custody and checked Freeland-Gaither for injuries.
“She was completely hysterical and emotionally drained and was finally relieved knowing that she was safe,” said Tim Jones, ATF agent in charge in Lanham, Maryland.
On Thursday, a Maryland judge ordered Barnes sent to Virginia following a hearing in which he answered yes-and-no questions and did not have an attorney with him.
Ramsey said it might be a while before Barnes faces justice in Pennsylvania. But that hardly mattered to a relieved Philadelphia police chief.
“He’s not going to see the light of day,” Ramsey said. “He’s off the street and he can’t harm anybody else ever again, hopefully.”
O’Dell contributed from Charles City, Virginia. Associated Press writers Sean Carlin in Philadelphia, Juliet Linderman in Baltimore and Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this story.