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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Justice served: Ramstein child molester caught, convicted

by Capt. Reba Good
U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa Public Affairs


3/20/2014 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- The Airman who abducted and molested multiple children in the Kaiserslautern Military Community in 2012 was caught and sentenced to 50 years confinement, reduction to airman basic and forfeiture of all pay and allowances March 18 at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, WY.

Tech. Sgt. Michael L. Merritt, who was stationed at Ramstein Air Base at the time of the attacks, was convicted of charges involving children spanning from 2003 through 2013, and specifically, aggravated sexual assault, sexual abuse, sodomy, assault consummated by a battery, kidnapping and attempted kidnapping. He will serve 25 years confinement based on a pretrial agreement.

"We are grateful that the families of the KMC area finally have closure on this," said Lt. Gen. Tom Jones, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa vice commander and KMC commander. "This predator caused a lot of pain and suffering in our community, and we hope this conviction provides healing and a sense of security for all those affected."

Investigators pinpointed Merritt as the sole perpetrator after forensic evidence analyzed by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory matched evidence found on some of the children's clothing, said Lt. Col. Christopher J. Ouellette, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 13th Field Investigations Squadron commander. This forensic evidence, combined with compiled witness testimonies and corroborated circumstantial evidence, helped lead to his arrest at F.E. Warren AFB.

"Since the suspect was already at his next duty station, we had to carefully coordinate our efforts with stateside agencies," said Ouellette. "Building our case against him took the full cooperation of military and civilian agencies in Germany and the U.S. It was a huge team effort."

The 13 FIS at Ramstein AB initially launched an investigation after a child came forward in January 2012 to say a man had pulled her into his car and molested her in the Ramstein housing area.

Several children in the Ramstein and Vogelweh housing areas came forward within that year to reveal kidnapping attempts and molestations.

Investigators spent several months working around the clock, conducting more than 600 interviews and collecting more than 250 forensic samples from potential suspects.

These efforts, combined with the multiple town halls held by the KMC commander, led AFOSI agents to receive more than 100 tips from KMC residents, said Special Agent Michael Tischer, 13 FIS, Major Crimes Division.

"Without direct community involvement, leadership support and cooperation from the brave victims, we would not have succeeded in identifying this sexual predator," he said.

This collaborative effort ultimately revealed many more victims, and investigation into Merritt's actions here is ongoing, said Ouellette. If witnesses and potential victims have knowledge of assaults by Merritt or other unknown perpetrators, they should contact AFOSI.

Even though the threat of this particular predator has been eliminated from the public, Ouellette stressed the need for parents to continue educating their children on the dangerous realities of the world.

"For example, parents could develop a 'safe word' for their children to use if approached by strangers," he said. "This way, children won't trust someone claiming their parents sent them. Merritt was able to lure some children willingly into his vehicle. We don't want anyone to be fooled again."

If you see suspicious activity around your housing area or notice an unsupervised child being approached by a vehicle or an unknown adult, step in and prevent the situation from escalating. Then report it to your local security forces unit. Vigilance is every person's responsibility.

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