Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Police: Tampa man flew to California to abduct teen boy

TAMPA — In May, authorities said, the parents of a 14-year-old California boy found sexually explicit photos and messages on his phone.

They came from a Tampa man, police said — Tony McLeod, 36, who encountered the teen through an online video game.

The boy's parents told McLeod to leave their son alone, Escondido, Calif., police told the U-T San Diego newspaper. Then they called authorities.

Monday afternoon, the boy didn't come home from school. Police quickly suspected McLeod played a role in the teen's disappearance.

By late Monday, detectives say they had tracked McLeod to Long Beach, where he and the boy — whose name was not released — had boarded a commercial flight to Tampa.

Escondido detectives said McLeod had "somehow enticed" the boy to leave with him.

When the Delta Airlines plane landed just after 6 a.m. Tuesday at Tampa International Airport, authorities were waiting. Tampa police and federal marshals boarded and took McLeod and the boy into custody.

Late Tuesday night, after McLeod spent hours in police custody, a department spokeswoman said Tampa police arrested him on charges of kidnapping, interfering with custody, traveling to meet a minor and transmission of harmful material to a minor. They said he had used a cellphone to send naked pictures of himself to the boy. Police said he was being booked into the Orient Road Jail.

The boy awaits arrangements to get back to Escondido, a city of nearly 150,000 near San Diego in southern California.

"He's a had a rough couple of days," Tampa Maj. Brian Dugan said at an afternoon news conference. "He's actually upstairs right now eating a slice of pizza."

Escondido police did not return calls for comment Tuesday. Escondido authorities did not formally charge McLeod with a crime Tuesday.

Escondido police Lt. Neal Griffin called McLeod a "sophisticated predator" when he spoke Tuesday to U-T San Diego about the case. McLeod met the boy through PlayStation online games, the newspaper reported.

Police were able to locate McLeod at the Long Beach airport, about 90 minutes away from Escondido, by "pinging" his cellphone, Griffin told the newspaper. Escondido police called Tampa authorities while the flight was en route.

McLeod has no criminal history in Florida, state records show. He lives at the Quarter at Ybor condominiums, police said.

"We have no reason to believe he's been involved in something like this before," said Dugan, who described McLeod as "pretty quiet."

"He's been trying to justify the situation that he's in," Dugan said.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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