After his autistic 16-year-old daughter ran away with a man more than twice her age, Glenn Pridgen was helpless to do anything about it.
As 11 Alive reports, 16-year-old Mary Margaret Pridgen was missing from her Georgia home for three days after her father says she cut a hole in a window and climbed out – then ran away with a much older man she met on the internet.
Though Mary Margaret was eventually reunited with her father, Glenn would have had no legal recourse if the teenager had decided not to return.
Her father reported her missing to Alpharetta police, but authorities couldn’t do anything because state law says that 16 is the legal age of consent.
“In the state of Georgia, it is not a crime for a 16-year-old to be in a relationship with someone older,” Officer Ross of the Alpharetta Police told 11 Alive.
Mary Margaret had reportedly posed as an 18-year-old online, where she met a man CBS 46 has identified as 44-year-old Michael Whitlatch.
The man allegedly referred to the girl as his fiancee and bought her a diamond ring from Tiffany. Whitlatch and Mary Margaret are believed to have run away together on Monday night.
According to CBS 46, Mary Margaret — who has a high-functioning form of autism known as Asperger’s– was in New York city early Friday morning when she approached a police officer and confessed that she had run away.
“She walked up to a police officer at 1:30 in the morning and said, ‘I’m a runaway. Please call my dad,” Pridgen told the news outlet.
Pridgen said that Whitlatch also has Aperger’s and said he is concerned he preys on young people with the same condition. He said that Whitlatch rented an apartment near where the Pridgen’s live.
“I believe he looks for vulnerable people, especially girls,” the father said.
Even if Whitlatch knew Mary Margaret’s true age, he cannot be charged with a felony, but he could be facing misdemeanor obstruction charges if he knew she was a runaway and did not aid police in revealing her location, according to the CBS 46 report.