UPDATED: Tuesday, May 23, 2:38 PM EST:
Leon Lamar Tripp, the Georgia stepfather wanted for kidnapping his 16-year-old stepdaughter, is in custody in Dekalb County, Georgia.
He was arrested Tuesday morning by the U.S. Marshals Service in the county where he is being held, Sgt. Tim Owen of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office tells NewsOne. He was arrested on charges of aggravated stalking and is being held without bail, according to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.
Latania Janell Carwell, 16, who left her home with Tripp in the middle of the night on April 17, remains missing, Owen said. Tripp claims he thought Latania went home, according to law enforcement sources.
Authorities issued a kidnapping warrant for Tripp after he departed the home they shared with the girl’s mother at 1:30 a.m., shortly after her 16th birthday. Tripp told the girl’s mother he took her out of the home to help him find a friend who had car trouble. Police said Tripp’s claim was untrue.
Owen, of the violent crimes division, said the police investigation into Latania’s whereabouts is still active.
Latania’s uncle Charles Carwell called the news of Tripp’s arrest “bittersweet” in an interview with NewsOne.
“This has always been about bringing her home,” Carwell, 33, a warehouse inventory control clerk, said about Latania. “I felt some relief but the next thing you are waiting on is if he’s going to say where she is.”
Carwell’s sister and Latania’s mother, Tanya Tripp, has told multiple media outlets that she did not believe her husband did anything wrong, even after police said Tripp’s story was false and issued an arrest warrant for kidnapping.
Tripp was spotted in Atlanta but Latania has not been seen publicly.
Carwell urged Tripp to tell authorities where Latania is.
Georgia Family Worries For Teen Who Went Missing With Stepfather
Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 37 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database under the age of 18 and 26 percent above the age of 18. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans.
To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile missing persons and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.
Latania Janelle Carwell and Leon Lamar Tripp
Case Type: Endangered
Date of Birth: April 17, 2001
Missing Date: Apr 17, 2017
Age Now: 16
Missing City: Augusta
Missing State: Georgia
Case Number: 2017-00153988
Hair Color: Black
Hair Length: Shoulder Length
Eye Color: Brown
Wear Glasses or Contacts: No
Location Last Seen: Latania and her stepfather, Leon Lamar Tripp, 38, were last seen in the 3100 block of Tate Road in Augusta, Georgia in a 1990 GMC Sierra pickup truck with Georgia license plate number PYT6004.
Circumstances of Disappearance: According to Latania’s family, she and Tripp left the family home at about 1:30 a.m. on April 17 after he received a call from a friend who needed help with a flat tire.
Latania’s uncle, Charles Carwell, 33, a warehouse inventory control clerk, says Latania’s mother did not know that her daughter had left the house until she was informed by her other child.
Carwell says that when Latania’s mother reached Tripp by phone, he said he had taken Latania with him to help read the GPS on the smartphone to help find his friend. That explanation does not sit well with Carwell.
“I think there’s some kind of foul play involved,” Carwell tells NewsOne. “It’s crazy at 16 that she goes missing on her birthday.”
Carwell questioned the wisdom of taking a 16-year-old out at 1:30 a.m. on a school night.
“At the end of the day we are in this situation with a missing child because he chose to take her out the house,” he stated.
Carwell described his niece as a good teen who avoided trouble.
“She never did anything like this. She’s down to earth, very smart, and had the whole world in front of her. I’d brag about her to anybody,” said Carwell.
Carwell’s wife, ShaDarrell Carwell, 32, a dietician, is also worried about her niece.
“She’s a good kid. She just [recently] turned 16. She makes good grades. She doesn’t go out much. It’s weird. Something’s going on,” she added.
Investigators from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office have also listed Tripp as a missing person. The 38-year-old is described as being 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighing about 202 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes.
Investigators did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NewsOne and have made no public indication that foul play might be involved. They believe the pair may be in the Atlanta area. The truck the pair was traveling in was recently found not far from their home
Carwell sent a plaintive message to his niece: “Your uncle and your family love you and we miss you. If you walk through the door today we can get through this,” he said. “Whatever the situation, if you walk through the door, we can work through this.”
Last Seen Wearing: Unknown.
Identifying Marks or Characteristics: Unknown.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Latania Janelle Carwell and Leon Lamar Tripp is being asked to contact the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 821-1020 or (706) 821-1080. You may also contact the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.
Jeffery C. Mays is a contributing writer for NewsOne, specializing in politics and news about missing persons in conjunction with the Black and Missing Foundation. Jeff is the former New York City politics reporter for DNAinfo New York and also a former reporter for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Root, and Wired magazine. Jeff is the recipient of reporting awards from the New York Press Club, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and the National Association of Black Journalists. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffCMays.