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Girl locked in box for three days was fed only water and crackers

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemLake County Sheriff's OfficeLos Angeles Police Department

A 15-year-old girl who was kidnapped and locked in a metal box on a property in rural Northern California was fed only crackers and water, authorities said.

The girl, who was reported missing April 2 from a San Fernando Valley home, was on the 681-acre Lake County property for three weeks before she was rescued.

The girl told police the men made her stay in it on two occasions for a total of three days, court records show.

The box had holes drilled into the lid and a blanket left inside. The girl’s captors would put a straw through one of the holes so she could drink from a water bottle, officials said. According to court documents, the men sent water from a hose through the holes when the box was elevated and tilted so it would clean the girl and the human waste inside.

The first letter of the girl's name was spray-painted on the outside. Inside was a decal that "depicted an animal skull surrounding the shadow image of a human skull with the logo 'Bone Collector,'" according to the court documents.

In addition to the girl, federal and local authorities found more than 1,400 marijuana plants and the largest, most sophisticated cache of military-grade weapons and armor in recent Lake County Sheriff’s Department history, officials said.

Ryan Alan Balletto, 30, and Patrick Steven Pearmain, 25, face numerous charges and are scheduled to appear in federal court in San Francisco in connection with the case on Wednesday, officials said.

The Lake County Sheriff's Department said in a statement released this weekend that the girl was sexually assaulted repeatedly during her captivity. In court documents unsealed this month, prosecutors allege the pair forced the girl to “trim,” or cut up marijuana for drying.

The two were arrested on suspicion of unlawful intercourse with a minor under 16 years of age, oral copulation, sodomy, false imprisonment and molestation, according to the Sheriff’s Department statement.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had been investigating Balletto’s large, isolated property east of Clear Lake since December 2011, court documents showed.

Balletto and Pearmain pleaded not guilty last week to charges of federal conspiracy to distribute marijuana, using a minor in a drug operation and possession of a firearm to further drug trafficking.

Lake County Dist. Atty. Don Anderson said Friday that his office initially filed its own criminal charges against Balletto and Pearmain. But after consulting with the U.S. attorney's office, he dropped those charges until the federal case moved forward.

"We're going to hold back and let our victim recuperate and feel better about herself, and then look more into the sex crimes," he said.

Before Lake County sheriff's officials could raid Balletto's property in late April, they got a call from the girl, records show. She told them she was fine and staying with Balletto. A detective traced the call to a hotel, and authorities there found her in a room with Pearmain.

Authorities say they collected a bag full of marijuana, prescription drugs, condoms and a pregnancy test from the hotel room. Pearmain also had a notebook on him that had an apparent script for the girl to read to police over the phone, authorities say.

Then authorities raided the marijuana farm. "It was kind of like opening Pandora's box," said Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Ostini.

A "rack" allegedly used for bondage and sex toys were found on the property along with the box and weapons cache, officials said. Authorities alleged in court papers that Balletto called the girl a "trouper" because she didn't scream when she was in the box.

Authorities said the investigation is ongoing. Joshua Eaton, a spokesman for the northern district of the U.S. Attorney's Office, said there could be more victims.

Many unanswered questions remain, including the exact connection between the girl and the suspects and why she called police when she did.

Both men were being held without bail. The Los Angeles Police Department arrested a third man, Eric Edgar, on suspicion of sexual assault.

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Joseph.serna@latimes.com

@josephserna

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemLake County Sheriff's OfficeLos Angeles Police Department
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