STEPHEN, Minn. — The mood in this town of 700 is different since the arrest of a 19-year-old for allegedly kidnapping a 12-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl from the city park.
"Little more fear in the community. Everyone I have talked with has some fear and panic," said Stephen resident and father of two Adam Kuznia.
According to the Marshall County Sheriff's Office, the girls were forced into the vehicle by Julio Clauson just before 5 a.m. on Saturday, July 10.
"By clenching his fists and asking the girls to get in the car with him," said Marshall County Sheriff Jason Boman, explaining how Clauson reportedly lured the girls into the car. "They were scared, but they figured they should get in."
The sheriff said Clauson drove 150 miles from Otter Tail County to Stephen. He had tracked them down after meeting one of the girls on the Snapchat app about a month ago.
"One of the girls told us she thinks he found them because she left her Snapchat map open and she thinks that's how he was able to follow them," explained Boman.
After the two girls got in the car, Clauson sped away. Three other friends of the girls chased Clauson for nearly 20 miles — sometimes reaching speeds of 100 mph. Eventually, Clauson stopped and let the girls out along Highway 75, south of Warren.
While the friends' actions were dangerous, the sheriff said they did the right thing by chasing the car and staying on the line with 911.
"This could have turned out a lot worse if everyone didn't react the way they did," Boman said.
Clauson was arrested shortly after the girls got out of the car. Clauson said very little other than that the girls got into his car willingly, Boman said.
"He just said he was bored that night," Boman said. "He was Snapchatting with them, and he decided to drive up and meet these girls. They never invited him."
While the alleged kidnapping happened on July 10, there was a delay of nine days before the public was notified. Boman addressed the delay, saying that a miscommunication about a public statement delayed the release. But he also said with Clauson locked up, it was important to focus on the investigation — which included careful analysis of cellphones in this case.
"In a case where there are juveniles involved, I want to make sure I do everything right," Boman said.
Clauson was taken into custody by the Polk County Sheriff's Office for warrants in St. Louis County. He is expected to face two counts of kidnapping from Marshall County.
Boman said his office is working with social services to figure out why the girls were at the park in the middle of the night.