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Kidnapped girl freed by resourcefulness

There was a dirty mattress. A small container of juice. A bag of potato chips. And a bucket that the men who kidnapped 7-year-old Erica Pratt told her she should consider a toilet.

Then they left the little girl _ her eyes, hands and feet bound with duct tape _ in the dark basement of an abandoned house 12 miles from her home. But Erica's abductors left the child with something besides her meager provisions: her irrepressible will and determination.

As detectives continued to search Wednesday for Erica's kidnappers, the second-grader with braids and an easy smile was being hailed by the authorities for the poise, courage and intelligence she displayed in escaping.

Less than 24 hours after two men snatched her from the street in front of her home and demanded $150,000 in ransom, Erica slowly gnawed through the duct tape that held her and fled her basement prison.

As detectives retold the story of her escape, authorities redoubled their efforts to find the men who they think took her.

On Wednesday afternoon, police said an arrest warrant had been issued for Edward Johnson, 23, in connection with Erica's abduction. Johnson faces at least a half-dozen charges including kidnapping, false imprisonment and endangerment. Authorities said a similar warrant was being prepared for James Burns, 29, who investigators think was also involved in the abduction. Before Erica escaped Tuesday, police said they were seeking the men for questioning.

Detectives said they were investigating the possibility that Erica's abduction may have been related to a feud between rival drug dealers in her neighborhood.

After Erica was taken from outside her home around 9:20 p.m. Monday, her captors took her to an abandoned home a dozen miles away .

There, they restrained the girl with duct tape and left her with the bucket to use as a bathroom.

"She couldn't even use that because her hands and feet were taped together," said Officer Andrew Skaziak.

The police said Erica's captors did not tape her mouth.

"She is able, during the course of this ordeal," said Lt. Michael Chitwood, "to chew or gnaw her way through the tape on her wrists. She gnawed her way through the tape, removes the tape from her eyes, legs and arms and starts the process of getting out."

Erica then climbed the basement stairs, and found the door locked. She kicked out a panel on the door and wriggled her way through the narrow opening. But she was not free yet. The front door to the house was also locked.

So, detectives said, Erica punched out a screen in a window, crawled through it and began screaming for help. A boy and a girl who had been playing on the street helped her out the window and ran to get Skaziak and his partner, Michael Harvey.

"Erica did all the work," Harvey said. "She deserves all the praise. She freed herself."

She was reunited with her family at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia late Tuesday.

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