The alleged abduction was mentioned in a mother’s Facebook post as she warned other parents to keep a close eye on their children during the Christmas shopping season.
A Brisbane mother wrote that she was sickened when she learned what happened, relaying that she was at the Kmart with her own daughter. “I turned around and notice a guy in his late 20s looking at her weirdly. I called for her to come to me and the guy looked at me so strangely then turned and walked off,” the mother wrote.
“I had a terrible gut feeling about him. Now I feel sick knowing what has happened. Wish I said something to someone.”
Another mother wrote about the kidnapping in a post shared by the Daily Mail.
“A young girl was abducted from the shop and her mum was right there. The mum was looking at something and the child was bringing toys to her mum to show her which ones she wanted for Christmas,” the mother wrote.
“Then all of a sudden she stopped coming back so mum looked and she was gone. They searched and called police. She was gone for 1.5 hours before she was returned. The police searched video footage and saw a man take her and return her 1.5 hours later. She was dazed and appeared drugged,” the woman continued.
The mother urged parents to keep a close watch on their children.
Man’s Name Suppressed
The man appeared in Pine Rivers Magistrate Court on Dec. 11 but the hearing was closed to the press and the man’s name was suppressed by the judge who the next day claimed it was “fair justice” to do so.
“It’s also important I take into account the interests of the administration of justice and ensuring that proceedings proceed according to the fundamental principle of fairness and the application of the rule of law, and not by a public or social media lynching,” Pine Rivers Magistrate Trevor Morgan wrote in his decision on Wednesday, reported the Brisbane Times.
“I also note there have been comments from politicians criticizing the behavior of police in not disclosing more information than had been disclosed earlier. I entirely support the view, the position taken by police, in not disclosing more information than has been. In my view, less information would have been more helpful than has already been disclosed.”
The alleged kidnapper didn’t apply for bail and he will be held until his next court date in February.
Kmart confirmed the incident took place at a store but said it couldn’t comment further.
Sources told 9 News that surveillance footage captured the girl following the man out of Kmart after she wandered down an aisle away from her mother.
The man was later identified by news outlets as Sterling Free, 26, a furniture store worker from Morayfield, which is north of Brisbane. Free previously worked for the Australia Zoo’s catering section, according to his Facebook page.
Commenters on the page slammed Free for his alleged actions.
Free is known to the police and had been the subject of previous investigations for alleged attacks involving children.
In one picture on Facebook, he’s seen wearing a shirt reading “Only God will judge me.” In another, he cradles his twins.
Wife Speaks Out
Free’s wife Angie Hodgson said that she was shocked by the alleged kidnapping and sexual assault.
“It’s been tough on me and my family. We’ve had media at our door and I don’t know what else to say,” she told the Daily Mail.
Hodgson did not attend his first court appearance.
She didn’t comment further and did not speak to other media outlets.
Police officers told 9 News that Hodgson had broken up with Free before the incident.
From NTD News