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This innovative tool helped authorities track down a serial predator in NE Ohio

Posted at 7:35 AM, Feb 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-09 09:12:08-05

Parents across Northeast Ohio were on edge and they had a reason to be nervous. A kidnapper was on the loose. An extremely rare and dangerous situation was unfolding — a stranger was targeting children.

"We were really on the verge of being desperate," said FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson.

A serial predator was caught on camera prowling a neighborhood. Hundreds of FBI agents and police officers were in a race against time to put a name to a face. 

"We had exhausted everything we had," said Anderson. 

It was February 2016, when the man who has since been identified as Justin Christian put a ladder under the window of a 10-year-old Elyria girl. He grabbed her but she got away and her dad chased Christian away. Three months later, in a west side Cleveland neighborhood, a 6-year-old girl was not so lucky. 


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Christian walked into a home and snatched the sleeping child. A surveillance camera caught him carrying her to his car. He terrorized her for the next 17 hours before dropping the child off in a neighborhood where she was found. 

DNA linked the two cases. But hundreds of leads turned up nothing. The FBI and local police departments were out of leads and running out of time. 

"Someone that brash is going to do it again and that was very concerning to us," said Anderson.

That's when investigators went to Attorney General Mike DeWine pleading to use new high-tech science to help solve the crimes.

DeWine gave the green light for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in London, Ohio to use a brand new investigative tool. It had only been used in a handful of states and never in Ohio. Procedures and protocol had been written and were in place.

"We were waiting for the right case," said Tom Stickrath, Superintendent of BCI. And this was the case. 

"That's the kind of case we look at to do familial DNA. A child predator, that was in all likelihood going to commit yet another offense, in a community that was alarmed. We had a good DNA sample which was important and law enforcement had exhausted their leads in this case," he added. 

Scientists were about to use familial DNA for the first time in the state of Ohio.

"A man passes down the same Y chromosome, DNA profile to his son. That son will pass the exact Y chromosome to their son," said Diane Gehres, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, CODIS Manager.

Right now, the test is only being done on male DNA samples.

"Anybody who has the brother from the same father will have the exact DNA profile," added Gehres. It identifies possible male relatives already in the system by providing a list of fathers, brothers or sons of a criminal suspect.

Gehres performed the first familial DNA test in the state of Ohio.

"When we had a Y profile that matched the evidence, we were quite excited," Gehres added. "When we determined that the offender was collected in the Cleveland area, we thought it might be good," she said. 

The familial DNA match was to Justin Christian's dead brother. The information was given to investigators, they tracked down physical evidence, it linked Christian to the crimes and he was arrested. Police then used his DNA to match it to DNA that had been collected at the scenes. 

Christian eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.