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Missing Idaho girl found in restaurant in hometown

Sunday, July 3, 2005

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- More than six weeks after she disappeared from a home where family members were bludgeoned to death, an 8-year-old girl was found safe Saturday, sharing a meal with a registered sex of-fender at a Denny's restaurant in her hometown.

Shasta Groene was being reunited with her father, but her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, remained missing and was feared dead, Kootenai County Sheriff's Capt. Ben Wol-finger said.

"Our initial information is that he may be deceased," Wolfinger said, adding that officials were continuing the search for him.

Joseph Edward Duncan III, a registered sex offender from Fargo, N.D., was arrested and charged with kidnapping. He was being held without bond, and Wolfinger said more charges were possible.

Duncan, 42, had an outstanding warrant for failing to register as a high-risk sex offender and was facing charges of molesting a 6-year-old boy in Minnesota. He was released on bail in April, just weeks before the children disappeared.

Shasta was spotted by a waitress early Saturday just miles from the home where her mother, older brother and mother's boyfriend were discovered bound and bludgeoned to death on May 16.

Amber Deahn, 24, said she thought she recognized the girl eating onion rings, cheese sticks and chicken strips with an older man. Shasta's picture has been posted around town and shown in the media.

"It clicked in my brain that she looks familiar," she said.

Dean tried to keep the pair at the restaurant longer by giving the girl crayons, coloring paper and a mask from the movie "Madagascar," and offering the girl dessert.

"I was trying to figure out a way to keep them there so the officers would have time to get there," she said.

Physically well

It was not yet known where the girl had spent the past six weeks. She was being interviewed at a medical center but appeared physically well.

Tom Kraus, Brenda Groene's great-uncle in Whitefish, Mont., said family members were elated by the news of Shasta's return. "Obviously, we were very excited they found Shasta," Kraus said. "We are hopeful they can find Dylan. We're very happy those folks at Denny's recognized her and that they found her."

Dylan and Shasta had been missing since at least May 16, when sheriff's deputies responded to their rural home after a neighbor reported that dogs were barking and the door of one vehicle was open but no one was in sight.

The deputies found the bound bodies of Brenda Groene, 40, Slade Groene, 13, and Mark McKenzie, 37. The victims were bound and then bludgeoned to death.

Investigators had interviewed hundreds of people, searched through 800 tons of trash and fielded more than 2,000 tips. It was not known whether Duncan had a connection with the victims.

"We don't have any idea who Duncan is, other than a very, very sick individual. Sick and stupid to go to a Denny's at 2 a.m. with a child," Bob Price, Shasta Groene's paternal uncle, said by telephone from Tacoma, Wash.

Police were seeking a warrant to search a stolen red Jeep that officials said Duncan had been driving. In Fargo, officers were securing Duncan's apartment in a neighborhood where a number of North Dakota State University students live, police Sgt. Shannon Ruziska said.

Duncan, whose criminal history dates back to 1980, enrolled at the university in 2000, majoring in computer science, and made the dean's list. When he moved to Fargo, more than 300 people attended a community notification meeting.

Kerstin Haugen, who lives in an apartment building next door, said she had not seen Duncan for several months. Police stopped by looking for him, she said.

"The call from Idaho was a surprise to us," Ruziska said.

Duncan was convicted in 1980 of raping a 14-year-old boy in Washington state when he was 16.

Last July, he was accused of molesting a 6-year-old boy at a school playground in Minnesota. He had been released by Becker County, Minn., authorities in April on $15,000 bond and ordered to stay in touch with a probation agent. In May, authorities said they were seeking Duncan on a warrant after he failed to do so.

Becker County Attorney Joseph Evans did not immediately return a call Saturday seeking comment.

Minnesota has moved to crack down on sex offenders since the slaying of college student Dru Sjodin across the state line in North Dakota. A sex offender from Minnesota is accused in the slaying.

A federal law creating a Web site with state-by-state information on sex offenders was inspired in part by the Sjodin case.


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