Sex offender charged in Md. girl's disappearance

11-year-old from Salisbury missing since Tuesday night

  • Sarah H. Foxwell
Sarah H. Foxwell
December 24, 2009|By Justin Fenton | justin.fenton@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

A massive search continued Thursday evening for an 11-year-old Salisbury girl who police say was kidnapped by a registered sex offender Tuesday night.

Authorities have arrested and charged Thomas James Leggs, 30, a registered sex offender in two states, with burglary and kidnapping in the disappearance of Sarah Haley Foxwell, who was taken from her bedroom, authorities say.

Police said Leggs is a former boyfriend of Sarah's aunt, who is the guardian of the missing girl and her younger sister. According to charging documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, a juvenile witness woke up during the night and saw Sarah leaving with "Tommy," with whom she was familiar. Leggs knew the family kept a spare key under a pot on the porch of the residence, records say.

Leggs "was developed as a suspect early on in the investigation before we were aware of his criminal background, but he does have a criminal history to include third- and fourth-degree sex offenses of small young females," said Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis.

The girl's aunt, Amy Fothergill, said Sarah's green toothbrush was missing from the home, and police found it along with a lollipop inside Leggs' 2003 Dodge pickup truck. He agreed to visit the sheriff's office and said he was last driving the pickup truck at 1 a.m. Wednesday when he left a local restaurant and bar. When he responded to the sheriff's office, he was wearing clothes that were similar to what the juvenile witness described.

Asked if authorities believe the girl is alive, Maryland State Police Sgt. David Owens was terse: "The sheriff's been reporting that we're holding out hope - I'll just stick with his words," he said. "We're doing everything we can do."

The abduction was reported at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Owens said there has been a strong response from the community, with multiple agencies assisting as search teams. Several dozen police officers were joined by volunteers from as far as the western shore and northern Delaware. Dive teams scoured a local pond Wednesday night, and helicopters and dogs were brought in to aid the search.

"The outcry has been sobering, the number of people who want to help," he said. "We're doing everything we can do."

According to charging documents, Fothergill dated Leggs "for a short period of time a month or so ago and that Leggs just stopped contacting her." Fothergill told police that she knew Leggs was a registered sex offender.

Sarah is 4 feet, 8 inches tall and has brown hair often worn in a ponytail. Police say she was last seen wearing red, fuzzy pajama bottoms with Christmas trees on them, and a pink John Deere T-Shirt.

Police also released a photograph of a 2003 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup used by Leggs and they asked anyone who may have seen the champagne/tan-colored vehicle to contact authorities.

Leggs was being held at the Wicomico County Detention Center on no bail. He is listed as a child sex offender in the Maryland Sex Offender Registry, stemming from a third-degree sex offense conviction. He was listed as "compliant" as of Dec. 3.

In Delaware, he is listed as a "high risk" sex offender in connection with a 2001 rape of a teenager.

Electronic court records in Maryland show Leggs was charged in September 2009 with fourth-degree burglary and malicious destruction of property. His divorce was finalized in April, and he was denied custody and visitation of his child.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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