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News Conference on Escaped Abducted Girl

Aired July 24, 2002 - 12:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now back to our top story. We are going to take you live to Philadelphia now, where a press conference is just about to be held on the daring escape of 7-year-old Erica Pratt.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

OFFICER MIKE HARVEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: Police Officer Michael Harvey.

Last night, at approximately 10 of 8:00, we were approached by a young girl on a bike. She stated to us that there was a young girl down the street who was bound with duct tape. She was in the basement of the house, and that she needed police help.

We were on our Operation Safe Street corner. We proceeded with the little girl down the street, where we encountered Erica Pratt. At the time we observed her, she had the duct tape around her head. She had duct tape marks on her eyes and her face. Her left eye was bulging, and we observed duct tape around her hands.

At that time, we continued to question her. We asked her which house she escaped from. She pointed the house out to us at 1211 West Lowden (ph). We secured her in our police car. We radioed for more units to start to that location, and we secured the perimeter of the house.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

HARVEY: The young girl, Ms. Pratt, she was a very brave little girl. She was -- for everything that she had gone through, she had tremendous composure, whether that was from shock or not, I am really not sure. She did not cry during the whole encounter with police. She answered our questions clearly. She spoke very normal. I mean, I give her all of the credit in the world. She is a brave little girl.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

HARVEY: It is very hard. I mean, when I looked at her, I thought it was Erica Pratt. When I asked her her name and she told me who she was, she told me where she lived, and we knew who she was at that point.

We just kicked into our police mode We do what we do. We summon for more help, and we try do what we are trained to do, securing the perimeter of the house. We didn't know if the doers were still inside the house. She...

QUESTION: Mike, after you got her in the patrol car, did one of the officers, did Andrew (ph) offer her some of his lunch? There was a report about that.

HARVEY: What happened was we talked to her, and we got as much information from her as possible. Other units were at the location and speaking with her. I had asked her if she had eaten at any time. She stated, no. So my partner had given a sandwich that he had for his lunch to her to eat.

QUESTION: Was she hungry?

HARVEY: Oh, absolutely, she was hungry, yes.

QUESTION: What was the sandwich, was it chicken, tuna?

HARVEY: My partner will have to answer that.

QUESTION: What did you bring to work?

HARVEY: Tell them basically what happened.

OFFICER ANDY SKAZIAK, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: It was a chicken sandwich.

QUESTION: A chicken sandwich. So she went on it pretty good?

SKAZIAK: Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: When we were first approached by the girl on the bike, my partner made a comment that this may be the girl that we have been looking for. It was probable, but we thought it was highly unlikely that it was, being the distance that it was from the scene of incident. But when we saw the duct tape on her, she still had the same clothes on that she was taken in, the white tank top with the blue shorts, the description was identical. We went up, and we asked her her name, and she gave us her name. At that point, it sunk in at that point.

We secured the house, not knowing if any of the people were still in there. She was very composed. She showed a lot of courage and a lot of wherewithal to be able to break her bondage and the courage to go through the house and actually find a place to escape from. When she escaped, she got out of the house and she called for help.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: Seeing the incidents out in California, the one girl was taken and she was murdered, it makes you feel good that you are able to find a little girl who is alive. It makes you feel like you are actually out there doing something on the street, making a difference in the community.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: She said that the people that took her, she wasn't able to see them. They covered her eyes. They put her in the basement. They left her a bucket, so she could urinate into. She wasn't able to do that, so she had to urinate on herself.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: Not that I know of.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: It was around her eyes. As far as we could tell, it was around her eyes, and her hands were also bound. The tape was still around the crown of her head when we first encountered her.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: Apparently, she was halfway in the house and halfway out. She began to call for help, and the girls that were all on the street actually helped her out of the house. After we went up and we encountered her, the girls just disappeared back into the crowd. We weren't able to locate them. They are heroes as well.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: Extreme courage. Most adults, when they become involved in situations such as that, they tend to just go with what happened. In today's world, she showed a lot of courage. She went through the house not knowing if the people that took her were still in the house that would do any bodily harm to her, a lot of courage.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: There was no one in the house at the time. She wasn't able to give us a timeframe of when she was actually left alone.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: The house appeared to be -- being renovated. There were tools scattered around the house, a scaffolding. It looked like it was being painted.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: We were involved in Operation Safe Street in that area. It's a drug area, where drugs are sold. Since our involvement down there, luckily, the children are on the street again, and luckily, one of them was able to help Erica out of house.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

SKAZIAK: Well, we are northwest Philadelphia. It is several miles. It's one end of the city to the other. QUESTION: Did she say anything more about the people that took her? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anything like that?

HARVEY: She was told by her captors that, you know, her parents were going to have to pay money to get her back. So she was aware of that. She didn't understand the dollar amount that was involved in it, but she was aware that her parents would need to pay to get her back.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

HARVEY: No, she did not know her captors.

QUESTION: Did she say they threatened her at all if she talked or screamed or anything?

HARVEY: No, she did not state anything like that.

QUESTION: Tell us how long both of you have been police officers, and how you would characterize what transpired.

HARVEY: My partner has been a police officer for a little over five years. I have a little bit, about two-and-a-half. Every day, we encounter circumstances that are abnormal. This is just another one of those abnormal types of encounters. I mean, you know, this is one that is going to end on a positive note. A lot of them that we come encounter with end on negative notes. So I mean, this is a very positive thing.

QUESTION: Can you describe how critical it was to find her within the first 24 hours? That was definitely quick.

HARVEY: Absolutely. In cases like this, the time line, the first 24 hours are the most important. Erica did the work. I mean, she really did. She deserves all of the praise. My partner said she showed tremendous courage, and you know, she freed herself. From there, we just did our job, that's all we did.

QUESTION: After seeing her when you came across her, how much more does that make you want to catch the guy?

HARVEY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, they will be caught. It's just a matter of time.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

HARVEY: Every day I am proud to be a police officer, whether it's a big job or a little job, I mean, we are here to help. We are here to help people, interact with the community. We try to interact with everybody. We are on Safe Streets every day, so we have more interaction now with the community than we ever did before. Kids approach us, they talk to us. We try to talk to them about staying in school and doing the right thing. So every day, it's a reward.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no information.

HARVEY: I have no information on that right now.

QUESTION: Can you comment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, it's still under investigation. Detectives are putting -- they are putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Our No. 1 priority was finding Erica, and nothing else -- nothing else mattered up to that point. Today now, we are going to go after the bad guys and we're going to put the rest of the puzzle together. I don't know who -- I don't know who the house is owned by. That is something the detectives are working on right now.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no information regarding that right now. We do have two suspects.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't talk about that right now.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are getting numerous tips, but right now, they haven't been apprehended yet, but we are confident that they will be.

I hate to end this, but Deputy Norris (ph) is going to have those cars ticketed if we don't move them.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not ruling anything out. I am hearing that, too. I don't know if that's actually founded or not that the family came into any kind of insurance money. But hopefully, we'll have more information later on, and when we do, we will set up another news conference. We'll keep you completely informed, and I'd like to thank the media because you were great putting the exposure out for this kid. I appreciate it.

Whoever owns those cars, move them.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: S-K-A-Z-I-A-K.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). SKAZIAK: Skaziak.

QUESTION: First name?

SKAZIAK: Andrew.

PHILLIPS: With her head surrounded -- wrapped, rather, with duct tape, marks on her eyes, face and hands, duct tape all over her body, 7-year-old Erica Pratt made a daring escape in Philadelphia, There is the picture of the little 7-year-old. What a brave little girl.

You have been watching a news conference out of Philadelphia with the two officers that came across the 7-year-old that had been missing. Mike Harvey -- Officer Mike Harvey and Officer Andy Skaziak both talking about coming across the little girl while on Operation Safe Street corner. Evidently, this area, where Erica had chewed the duct tape and freed herself and escaped out of a window, pulling the screen out, this area was a highly -- or a drug area, according to police officers.

Completely amazed how this little girl just, without even knowing if her abductors were in the house or not, freed herself and escaped, yelled for police. And those two officers happened to be in that area patrolling and came across her. One of the officers saying that immediately, once they questioned her, she said she was hungry. He gave her his chicken sandwich, and she was very calm, showed tremendous composure, according to police officers.

There is the picture of Erica taken not long ago after she was found by police, quite a brave little girl, according to the officers. She didn't cry, she answered all of the proper questions.

Some very disturbing details about this, though -- left in the basement, was given a bucket to urinate. She wasn't able to do that, so unfortunately when the officers found her, you know, she had to, unfortunately, urinate on herself, totally braving the elements there, though, and finally freeing herself and was able to get to police officers.

Our Jason Carroll is in the community.

Jason, I'm not sure if you are in -- her neighborhood, is that where are you? Or are you in the area where she was found?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing actually right in the neighborhood where Erica has lived with her grandmother, in fact, right in front of her home.

And just to echo some of what you were saying, a number of people here in her neighborhood, as you can imagine, talking about this brave little girl.

You heard the officers describing her character, what type of character it took to survive such a harrowing type of ordeal. And that's basically what people here are saying about this 7-year-old girl, Erica Pratt. You noticed -- you saw some of the video there from last night, as Erica was being held in the arms of that female officer, how Erica smiled and waived to the camera. Again, that just sort of explains what type of little girl this is.

Imagine being held for 24 hours, duct taped, blindfolded, on a dirty mattress, not knowing what's going to happen to you next. And even so, this girl had the state of mind to chew through that duct tape, to climb stairs, stairs that had holes in them, to break through a door, and then break through a window, and then scream and call for help.

After that, it was some little boys who were in the neighborhood, located about 20 minutes from where I am, who heard Erica's calls for help. They, then, broke inside, brought her out, and then they walked down the street, found the officers, who you saw there, and the rest, as they say, is neighborhood history.

Indeed, a very brave little girl, everyone here that this particular case had a happy ending -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

Once again, we want to show you the pictures of the suspects. Now, the search is on for the two individuals believed to have kidnapped little Erica Pratt. These are the pictures right here, Edward Johnson and James Burns. These are the two men that police are looking for now. If you know of their whereabouts, if you know anything about them, you are asked to call the FBI, 215-418-4000.

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