SEATTLE (AP) — The father of a 6-year-old Washington state girl who went missing over the weekend was charged more than a decade ago with molesting two girls, ages 8 and 15, according to court records.
James Wright pleaded guilty in Whatcom County Superior Court in December 2001 to a misdemeanor assault charge related to the older girl. It was not immediately clear why the molestation charges were dropped. Prosecutors there did not immediately return a call Wednesday.
Authorities in Kitsap County are searching for Jenise Wright, who was last seen when she went to bed Saturday night at her home near Bremerton. Bremerton is on the west side of Puget Sound, across from Seattle.
Her family didn’t become worried and call for help until Sunday night because the child had left the home on previous occasions and wandered around the neighborhood, authorities have said. They felt it was relatively safe because the mobile home park is fenced.
Kitsap County sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson said at a news briefing Wednesday that they’re aware of the past charge against the father, but that officers are focused on finding the girl. “That has nothing to do with this investigation right now,” he said.
“Our main issue here is Jenise, getting her returned home to her family safely,” Wilson added. Of her parents, he said: “I can’t emphasize enough how cooperative that they both have been with law enforcement authorities in the course of this investigation.”
The parents took FBI lie-detector tests Monday night, but the results have not been disclosed. Their home was also searched twice by different sets of authorities, Wilson said Wednesday.
A listed number for James Wright could not be found. The Bellingham defense attorney who represented him during the previous charges did not immediately return a call or email.
Investigators don’t know if the girl wandered off or was the victim of an accident, abduction or homicide.
“We’re hoping she’s fine. And that’s the expectation that we have,” Wilson said Wednesday. But “we have to plan and execute our investigation as if it’s a worst-case scenario.”
Dozens of officers from more than 15 law enforcement agencies including the FBI are involved in the search. Officers have been going door to door at the mobile home park. They planned Wednesday to extend the search to surrounding areas, including the area behind the mobile home park and a nearby field. They also planned to pull surveillance video from nearby businesses and were checking in with sex offenders in the county.
Wilson said the FBI also planned to bring in search dogs to look for the girl.
According to court records, the girl’s father was charged with first-degree child molestation in February 2000 for molesting an 8-year-old girl following a New Year’s Eve celebration. The girl told a detective and case worker that he inappropriately touched her, according to court documents.
More than a year later, in June 2001, the charges were amended to include third-degree child molestation after a 15-year-old girl who was babysitting the girl during New Year’s Eve 2000 said that Wright touched her breasts and put his hands down her pants, according to court documents.
A judge in Whatcom County Superior Court sentenced Wright to a year in jail but suspended the entire jail time provided he followed certain conditions, including paying fees.