Former Fort Bragg private sentenced after fake kidnapping of Craven County 12-year-old

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 4:13 PM EDT
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NEW BERN, N.C. (WITN) - A former Fort Bragg private was sentenced Tuesday after officials say he took his 12-year-old “girlfriend” across state lines in a fake kidnapping in 2018.

James Peele was sentenced to 12 years in prison for transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

On Oct. 21, 2018, a Craven County woman found her 12-year-old granddaughter missing from their Carolina Pines home. The girl’s bedroom window was open, and a hand-written ransom note demanded $20,000 for her return.

Officers found the girl in Fayetteville with Peele the same day she was reported missing. She was reunited with her grandmother that evening.

James Peele
James Peele(WITN)

A forensic examination confirmed Peele had recently had sexual intercourse with the minor, federal prosecutors say.

A friend of Peele, told law enforcement that Peele had asked for a ride to his “girlfriend’s” house in New Bern. He had shown a photo of the victim and claimed she was 18 years old.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says the friend said Peele told him to park at a vacant neighboring house, and Peele entered the victim’s home through a window. The friend said he became concerned about the girl’s age after noticing childlike décor, including middle school photographs and a hamster. He said he became disgusted and left the room when Peele and the girl began kissing.

After leaving the home, Peele drove the victim to his parents’ home in South Carolina, the feds say. Peele introduced the victim as his girlfriend and said she worked in a sewing shop. They stayed for less than a half-hour before Peele’s sergeant called and Peele had to return to post.

Back at Fort Bragg, Peele brought the victim back to his barracks and went to meet with his sergeant. Prosecutors say once he returned, his roommate says Peele asked his roommate to turn up his music, which the roommate understood to mean that Peele planned to have sex with the girl behind a sheet that had been hung across the room for privacy. The roommate left, and the FBI arrived soon after.

During a forensic interview, the victim told officials that she and Peele had been involved in a sexual relationship. She said she told Peele her true age, and he responded that age is just a number.

The victim admitted she had not been kidnapped, but denied coming up with the idea to stage a kidnapping, according to prosecutors.

Following his arrest, prosecutors said Peele made a videotaped confession. He admitted to having sexual intercourse with the victim. He also admitted to writing the ransom note, although he stated that the victim had asked to leave with him and had come up with the idea of staging a kidnapping.

Peele claimed that he believed the victim was 18 years old but admitted that he saw her at a sleepover with friends who looked very young.

Fort Bragg said Peele was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.

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