By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — Surveillance cameras at entrances to Yellowstone National Park were instrumental in helping authorities identify and arrest a man suspected of kidnapping a young girl here last week. The suspect, a Montana photographer who frequently visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, had been captured on video driving through Yellowstone the day before the incident.
It was through the help of law enforcement officials in Yellowstone National Park that investigators were able to identify a license plate matching a suspect vehicle that led to an arrest in the case, said Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam during a press conference Monday.
Jesse Paul Speer, 39, of Manhattan, Mont. was arrested Saturday in Belgrade, Mont. and faces charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and the use of a firearm while committing a felony, according to court documents filed in Park County, Wyo. Additional charges will be filed later as the investigation is completed, Rockvam said.
Rockvam said police reviewed multiple hours of local surveillance video from a variety of sources after an 11-year-old girl was abducted near the Park County Library on Oct. 8. Police sought video from businesses, government buildings and other sources within an 80-mile radius around Cody, which included surveillance cameras at entrance gates in Yellowstone Park, Rockvam said.
Those cameras capture images of vehicles and license plates — and sometimes the drivers — as they enter and exit the park. Video captured at two park entrances are cited in an affidavit filed by police Saturday seeking a warrant for Speer’s arrest.
The young victim provided descriptions of her abductor and his vehicle, which police used to match and track the vehicle’s movements around Cody as it was captured on surveillance video at various locations, including a liquor store and a gas station.
On Saturday, police reviewed video of a matching vehicle and its license plate taken as it entered through the North Gate of Yellowstone at about 4 p.m. on Oct. 7 and exited through the Northeast Gate at about 5: 20 p.m., according to court documents. The North Gate video also captured an image of the driver that matched the victim’s description of her abductor, court documents state.
Rockvam said video from Yellowstone and elsewhere was key to making the arrest.
According to an account of the incident provided Monday by Rockvam, the suspect lured the victim toward his white Toyota SUV by asking for help in finding a lost dog. Then he brandished a pistol and motioned for the girl to get in. He took the girl to a remote area in the Shoshone National Forest southwest of Cody and later released her on a mountain road where hunters found her and notified her mother and police, Rockvam said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].