TONGANOXIE, Kan. — The FBI has gotten involved in the case of three girls missing from their foster home in Tonganoxie. A man who was seen accompanying the girls, Rigoberto "Rico" Rangel, was detained by KCPD and later released Tuesday morning. Tonganoxie law enforcement, however, said they intend to charge Rangel.
More than seven weeks after the girls' disappearance in late August, KCPD officers responded to a tip early Tuesday morning and found Rangel and the girls in the basement of a Kansas City home near the old Leed's assembly plant in east Kansas City. Officers detained Rangel, who also goes by Rico, around 1 a.m. for questioning.
KCPD said they called Tonganoxie officials around 6:40 a.m. Tuesday to inform them they located Rangel. According to KCPD, Tonganoxie officials did not produce any charges against Rangel at the time. The department released him around 9 a.m.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Investigators are still piecing together who picked the girls up in Tonganoxie, and how they got over the state line into Kansas City, Missouri.
Neither Tonganoxie nor Kansas City police are charging Rangel with a crime, citing jurisdictional issues. That could soon change.
"We still need to investigate what criminal acts occurred. If a criminal act did occur, what jurisdiction did they occur in?" Tonganoxie Police Chief Jeff Brandau told 41 Action News.
After reportedly running away from Tonganoxie, they traveled into Wyandotte County, then Jackson County.
"We began receiving information yesterday afternoon about potential locations for Mr. Rangel," Brandau said.
A spokesperson with KCPD said the sisters were with Rangel willingly.
"He was a person of interest. We didn't have a warrant for him at the time. And it just so happened that as a person of interest he was the one that they were found to be with," Brandau said.
41 Action News talked to someone who lives at the home where the girls were located.
The young man didn't want to be on camera, but claimed he didn't know the girls were runaways, and that Rangel said one of them was his girlfriend.
Rangel has faced a sexual battery charge and drug-related charges in the past.
"Just to have them back into state custody and at least know that they're physically safe at the moment is a great relief, I think, to this entire community," Brandau said.
We asked Chief Brandau if police are worried Rangel could leave the area.
"It's a concern, but there's obviously nothing we can do about it until we get charges filed," Brandau answered.
All three girls were in the state's custody undergoing evaluation as of Tuesday evening. Where they'd go next was not immediately known.
The three girls, ages 12 to 15, reportedly ran away from their Tonganoxie foster home August 26, 2017.
There were no reports of the girls' whereabouts for well over a month until Saturday, October 14, when someone said they spotted them and Rangel at 31st and Van Brunt, just a few blocks from the home where police found them Tuesday.
[Editor's note: 41 Action News has removed all identifying information about the three girls in an effort to protect their privacy.]
“We just miss them. I’m telling you, it’s hard,” said their Great Uncle Terry Miller, choking back tears.
Not knowing where his nieces were sleeping or if they were eating was weighing hard on Miller’s family.
According to police, Rangel may have been with the girls for at least part of the time they were missing and noted that he may be homeless. He’s a friend of the girls’ biological mother.
“There’s different things that can be at play here with an older gentleman who may not have their best interest at heart,” said Lt. Jarrod Gill with the Tonganoxie Police Department in an interview with 41 Action News.
AFTER SEVEN WEEKS, A LEAD
A private investigator in the case, John Underhill, said Rangel and the girls may have gone in to ask for a room at a Days Inn motel near 31st and Van Brunt.
“Saturday afternoon, I got a phone call that said they had information concerning my three girls,” said Miller.
The woman on the line said Rangel and the minors had been staying in her basement.
“She knew about the girls and felt like she couldn’t be quiet about them,” Gill said. “She knew he had these three girls that he was passing off as his daughters.”
Miller said the girls have already been through so much trauma in their lives, and that’s why they came to stay at his house six months ago.
He said they started looking toward the future. One had aspirations to become an FBI agent, another was excelling in sports, and the third wanted to go to school to become a doctor.
After finding the girls Tuesday, KCPD put them in the custody of the Kansas Department of Children and Families.