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Philly family rejoices over girl's return

Arrest warrant issued in case; another pending

Erica Pratt
Erica listens as her uncle Joseph Moore reads a statement Wednesday.  

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- The 7-year-old girl who made a daring escape from a house where kidnappers were holding her for ransom gave reporters a broad, shy smile Wednesday, then hid her face with a stuffed dog when asked how she felt.

Throughout a news conference, Erica Pratt was held by one of her uncles with her head buried in his shoulder. She wore bright pink shorts and a pink top, her hair in braids held in place by pink and white barrettes.

When she passed up a chance to talk, the briefing ended.

Joseph Moore, another uncle, earlier read a statement from the family "to express our sincerest gratitude to everyone who offered their prayers and support concerning the safe return of Erica."

Erica was kidnapped from a southwest Philadelphia street Monday, taken to an abandoned building in the city's northwest section, bound with duct tape and locked in the basement.

She freed herself by chewing through the tape, smashing through a door and breaking a window to yell for help, police said.

An arrest warrant was issued Wednesday for Edward Johnson, 23, charging him with kidnapping, robbery, false imprisonment, luring a child and other related charges, said Philadelphia Police Inspector William Colarulo.

Colarulo said authorities were preparing a warrant against the second suspect, James Burns, 29. The inspector also said the FBI and other law enforcement agencies were working to apprehend the two men.

'Happiest day of my life'

The family of the 7-year-old girl who escaped from a house where kidnappers were holding her thanked everyone for their thoughts and prayers. CNN's Jason Carroll reports (July 25)

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Sharon Crowley of WTXF in Philadelphia reports on Erica's return. (July 24)

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Late Tuesday, a policewoman carried the smiling, waving child to the front door of her home where relatives greeted her.

"I'm just happy," said Erica's mother, Senna Gillis.

Erica lives with her 45-year-old grandmother, Barbara Pratt, who described the girl's return as "the happiest day of my life."

The girl was found Tuesday on the other side of the city nearly 24 hours after she was snatched by two men and hustled into a car. Erica's screams caught the attention of two children playing outside who contacted police.

Police officer Michael Harvey said he and his partner, officer Andrew Skaziak, were on patrol Tuesday night in northwest Philadelphia when a girl on a bicycle came up to them and said there was a girl down the street who had been bound with duct tape.

"She had duct tape around her head and duct tape marks on her eyes and face," Harvey said. "Her left eye was bulging, and we observed duct tape on her hands."

Erica pointed out the house where she'd been kept, and the officers secured it. Then they put her in a patrol car. The children who helped her out of the house disappeared, the police said.

"In speaking with her, I asked her if she had eaten at any time. She stated, 'No.' So my partner had given her a [chicken] sandwich that he had for his lunch to eat," Harvey said.

'Wouldn't treat animal like they treated' Erica

Police officer Robert Davis said Erica had "a bit of a corneal abrasion ... some redness of her eye. We don't know if it might be from the duct tape wrapped around her eyes -- but they [the kidnappers] did not harm her in any way."

At the house where she was taken, "she was forced to sit in a room with no light, on a dirty, filthy mattress, duct-taped together," Davis said.

Burnes and Johnson.
James Burnes, left and Edward Johnson are suspects in the case, police said.  

"There was a bottle of juice, a bag of potato chips and she was locked in the room. I mean you wouldn't treat your animal like they treated this little girl."

Police believe the motive for the Monday night abduction was money. Colarulo said Erica appeared to have been the specific target because the 5-year-old she was playing with was not taken.

Twenty minutes after the abduction, the grandmother began receiving calls demanding $150,000 in ransom money, Colarulo said.

"There's a rumor that the family came into money. I don't know that to be true," he said. But it is an angle being explored.

Erica told police the men never returned once they put her in the basement of the house, which Colarulo said had no utilities.

"We're still in the initial stages of putting the pieces of the puzzle together," Colarulo said. "Our No. 1 priority was to find Erica Pratt."


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