TAMPA - Police arrested a Tampa man late Tuesday on kidnapping charges after he flew from California to Tampa International Airport with a 14-year-old boy who had been reported missing by his family.
Tampa police detained Tony McLeod inside a Delta Air Lines plane after it landed at the airport about 6 a.m. Tuesday, said Tampa police Maj. Brian Dugan.
Traveling with McLeod was the boy, who was reported missing by his family in Escondido, near San Diego, after he failed to return home at 2 p.m. Monday from school, Dugan said.
Authorities in Tampa and Escondido were trying to figure out who would charge McLeod when Tampa police announced at 10:30 p.m. they would be booking him on charges of kidnapping, interfering with custody, traveling to meet a minor and transmission of harmful material to a minor.
The suspect sent the victim naked photos of himself via cellphone, Tampa police said.
McLeod, 36, is suspected of befriending the boy through an online game. Escondido police told the San Diego Union-Tribune that McLeod developed a friendship with the boy and sent sexual images and text messages to his cellphone beginning in May.
The boy's parents found the messages. They contacted Escondido police, and police contacted McLeod, who then changed his number and kept a low profile to make it hard for police to track him, the Union-Tribune reported.
McLeod then traveled from Tampa to Escondido, where he persuaded the boy to return with him to Tampa, police said. After receiving the missing person report, Escondido detectives determined that McLeod had abducted the boy and that the two were on a Delta flight from Long Beach, Calif., to Tampa.Escondido detective Lt. Neal Griffin called McLeod "a very sophisticated predator."
"He reached out across the country through the Internet and found a victim to entice and exploit to the point that somehow he was able to get the young boy on a plane with him," Griffin told the Union-Tribune.
McLeod was quiet when Tampa police and FBI officials confronted him in the plane, Dugan said. He later told investigators he had his reasons for accompanying the boy.
"The suspect is trying to justify the situation that he's in," Dugan said. "He is trying to justify to us how he got into this situation with this boy."
McLeod lives in The Quarter Condominiums in Ybor City, 1910 E. Palm Ave., Apt. 10202. Police were at his home Tuesday night hauling out bags of evidence. He has no criminal arrests in Hillsborough County, Dugan said.
The boy appeared unharmed and safe when police met with him Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, he was munching on pizza at the police headquarters downtown.
"No one knows what was going to happen to him here in Tampa," Dugan said.
Dugan said the boy recently finished eighth grade and is planning to attend ninth grade.
"I think the boy is going through a lot of transitions in his life, and he really hasn't figured out exactly what's going on," Dugan said.