A sheriff in southwest Iowa was recognized Thursday at a statehouse ceremony for his work in rescuing an 18-year-old girl who was kidnapped in 2007. Taylor County Sheriff Lonnie Weed says he received a call on December 8th at 9 p.m. that Michaela Fletcher was missing. He knew Michaela well from helping coach her basketball team in Bedford.
"That’s just out of character for Michaela (to go missing) and I knew right off something was wrong," Weed said. "By the time I got to town, they discovered her vehicle on fire." A man had kidnapped Michaela at gunpoint as she was leaving work at a Bedford Hy-Vee store.
Weed says 24-year-old Eric Houk was immediately identified as a "person of interest" in the case. Deputies went to Houk’s house and identified tracks in the snow that matched tracks left near Michaela’s car and where she was abducted.
"Two deputies and a city police officer were at the house and couldn’t raise anybody. They told me that the vehicle tires matched, so I told them not to leave until they made contact with (Houk)," Weed said. At 6 a.m., nine hours after Michaela was abducted, Houk surrendered.
"We were in the process of seeing if we could get a search warrant, when he came out (of the house) with her," Weed said. A jury convicted Houk of kidnapping, sexual abuse and arson. He was sentenced to four life terms in prison in October of last year.
Weed was presented with an award at Thursday’s annual ceremony to mark National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Matt Whitaker, the U.S. Attorney for Iowa’s southern district handed a plaque to Weed after reading several nomination notes – including one from Michaela.
Whitaker read: "She first quotes Voltaire, she says ‘faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.’ Then she says, I never believed that I would ever get through this. I still face fears in dark places and unlocked doors, but in Sheriff Lonnie Weed I trust."
Des Moines resident Karl Schilling was presented with an award for his 25 years of volunteer work on behalf of crime victims and Jasper County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Eric Nation was recognized for developing a local Drug Endangered Children’s Program.