FAIRBANKS—A 40-year-old Wasilla man is facing federal kidnapping charges for the brief abduction of two North Pole sisters earlier this month.
Michael Bowen Jr. reportedly confessed to taking the girls on Aug. 1 as they rode their bikes on Snowman Lane. Bowen allegedly drove them past Salcha on the Richardson Highway before turning around and bringing them back to North Pole a few hours later.
The girls, ages 6 and 9, weren’t physically harmed and authorities say Bowen’s motives remain unclear. In his confession he said he wanted to “teach the girls’ parents a lesson” because they were too young to be out on their own, according to charging documents.
Although he said he knew what he did was wrong, Bowen reportedly said “he did it once and he would likely do it again,” the documents stated.
The case drew the attention of numerous agencies, including North Pole police, University Police and the FBI. An FBI agent who specializes in interviewing children was brought in from San Francisco to talk to the sisters as part of the investigation.
FBI Special Agent Baron Lambert said the circumstances of the case are exceptionally rare, to the point that profilers at the FBI National Academy couldn’t find a precedent.
“They’re baffled,” he said. “They’ve never seen a case like this.”
Bowen was arraigned Monday in Fairbanks federal court, where he was appointed a public defender by U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith. He didn’t enter a plea during the court appearance and will be held without bail pending a hearing.
Photos of Bowen and his 2015 Ram pickup were released at news conferences in Anchorage and North Pole on Monday, and authorities said they are still looking at the possibility of additional victims. A third of child abductors take other children, according to FBI data.
“Even though North Pole is a small town, we need to be vigilant to keep our children safe,” North Pole Police Chief Steve Dutra said.
Bowen doesn’t have a criminal history and his only contact with the Alaska court system is an April speeding ticket at Fairbanks International Airport. He’s from Wasilla but was temporarily staying at the Eielson Air Force Base campground while working locally on a seasonal job.
Bowen reportedly saw the girls at the North Pole Safeway on Aug. 1, then followed them before luring them into his truck under the ruse of giving them a ride, according to a North Pole Police Department news release. However, charging documents stated they were grabbed from behind while riding in front of North Pole Middle School.
During the subsequent drive down the Richardson Highway, one of the girls reportedly got a cellphone call from her mother, but Bowen threw the phone out the window, saying he didn’t want it to track his location. As they were passing the Knotty Shop, one of the girls told Bowen that her father worked with the police.
Bowen drove several more miles before turning around and returning to North Pole. The girls were dropped off in the parking lot of a dental clinic, about a mile from the spot where they were taken.
“They remained calm and cool and were ultimately released,” Lambert said.
FBI Special Agent Derik Stone said he didn’t know whether the father’s police connectionplayed a role in their release. He said more information wouldn’t be released to keep from identifying the family.
Lambert praised the girls for advancing the case through numerous interviews. They were able to give investigators valuable information about Bowen and his vehicle, including a description of the truck, his clothing and even an unusual ring he wore on his right hand.
One of the girls identified Bowen as their abductor in a photo lineup, and both sisters identified his truck as the one they were riding in, charging documents state.
Authorities were ultimately led to Bowen after his truck was spotted on security footage, taken on the day of the kidnapping, that North Pole police obtained from a laundromat. The video, which was enhanced by University police, appeared to show a bicycle handle visible in the bed and a small individual seated on the passenger side of the truck.
Bowen faces federal charges because the penalties are stiffer than corresponding kidnapping charges at the state level, Stone said. Bowen faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.
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