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Wheeling Rape Suspect Held in Ky.

December 22, 2007
WHEELING — DNA and a barbed wire tattoo are two pieces of evidence that led police to the man they believe abducted and raped a North Wheeling girl nearly a year ago.

Joshua Michael Ridings could face life in prison if convicted of snatching an 11-year-old girl from her neighborhood on Feb. 20 and transporting her to Belmont County to rape her.

Ridings, 28, was charged with the crime after 10 months of investigations and more than 1,000 tips from the public. In addition, published reports indicate Ridings may have been involved in another sexually related crime in Indiana. He also has been linked to an alleged rape in Kentucky.

On Friday, law enforcement officials including U.S. Attorney Sharon Potter, Wheeling Police Chief Kevin Gessler, FBI Agent Joseph Sobocinski, Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith, Wheeling police Sgt. John Burke and FBI Special Agent Kevin Deegan said Ridings — a resident of 3007 East Yellowstone Drive, Owensboro, Ky. — had been charged in the North Wheeling rape.

Potter said Ridings has been charged with crossing a state line with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a person who had not yet attained the age of 12 — a crime that carries a minimum penalty of 30 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison with a $250,000 fine.

Ridings is being held in the Daviess County Detention Center in Owensboro, Ky., on a probation violation for a theft charge.

Officials said Friday that a DNA analysis performed by the FBI links Ridings to the Ohio County rape. Deegan also said Ridings’ DNA matches that of a suspect in an alleged August 2006 sexual assault of a 30-year-old Leitchfield, Ky., woman inside her home.

Potter said Ridings had not been charged with the Kentucky rape, noting that the North Wheeling rape charges are the only federal charges pending against him.

“In addition to the DNA match, Ridings has a barbed-wire tattoo that matches the description of the suspect,” Deegan said.

Gessler said a detective from Owensboro contacted Burke about the tattoo and the suspect’s description, which pointed local officials in Ridings’ direction.

Deegan said Ridings is originally from Kentucky, but he added that the suspect was living in Wheeling between January and June before leaving the area.

Deegan said he believed Ridings was employed as a subcontractor at American Electric Power’s Kammer-Mitchell Plant south of Moundsville when the North Wheeling rape occurred.

However, AEP spokeswoman Carmen Prati-Miller said Ridings was never an employee of AEP or the Kammer-Mitchell facility.

“That individual was part of the 2,500 contractors who worked at the facility during the scrubber project (to upgrade pollution controls there). He was an employee of one of the 20 subcontractors who worked at the plant over the past couple years,” she said following the news conference by law enforcement officials Friday.

Although Ridings did work on the Mitchell plant property for a time, Prati-Miller said the project is now complete and no additional information regarding Ridings’ employment was available at press time.

After leaving the Wheeling area this summer, Ridings was accused of another crime involving an Indiana woman. Published reports indicate he allegedly entered the apartment of a Warrick County, Ind., woman and removed all of his clothing; he was later released on $300 bond.

Gessler said Friday he believed the North Wheeling girl — who is now 12-years-old — and her family had been notified of the charges against Ridings. He also stressed that their interests are paramount.

“We want to bring a sense of closure to the victims and assure them that this individual will never be able to do something like this again,” he said.

The victim’s mother could not be reached for comment Friday.

Potter said a federal detainer against Ridings will ensure he is not released in Kentucky and that he will be transported to Wheeling for prosecution.

“Everyone wants to work together to see that he is prosecuted here,” she said, although she added it was too early to say when Ridings may be extradited and arraigned.

Gessler said the truck Ridings allegedly used to transport the North Wheeling victim for the rape was still part of the investigation, but he declined to comment further regarding the truck.

While Ridings allegedly took the girl from Wheeling to St. Clairsville to rape her, he then released her in Bridgeport. Gessler would not speculate about why Ridings released the girl, but said he was thankful for the act.

“We are very grateful that he did release this young child,” Gessler said.

Article Photos

Photo by Scott McCloskey
Wheeling police Chief Kevin Gessler announces Friday that a Kentucky man has been charged in the Feb. 20 abduction and rape of a North Wheeling girl. Flanking Gessler are U.S. Attorney Sharon Potter and FBI Special Agent Kevin Deegan.

Fact Box

? Aug. 23, 2006: A 30-year-old woman was sexually assaulted at her home in Leitchfield, Ky. The victim was having a yard sale at her home. The victim invited the suspect into the house to view a piece of furniture. They agreed on a price, he told the victim he would return with the money, and he left the residence. A short time later, the subject, who wasn’t wearing any clothes except for a pair of boots, returned and entered the house to sexually assault the victim.
? Feb. 20: An 11-year-old girl was abducted from Fifth Street in North Wheeling. The suspect, who at the time was naked except for a pair of socks, allegedly approached the victim and asked her for directions. He was able to grab the girl and force her into his vehicle. The victim was transported to St. Clairsville, where she was sexually assaulted. She was released 40 minutes later in Bridgeport.
? Oct. 31: Wheeling police and the FBI announced a DNA link between the North Wheeling and Leitchfield cases.
? Dec. 21: An arrest warrant is issued against Joshua Ridings, 28, of Owensboro, Ky., for the North Wheeling rape. Ridings was in custody for a probation violation.

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