An Ohio man accused of killing a Cross Lanes teenager allegedly met the girl over the Internet — and the girl’s father begged other parents Tuesday to make sure they know what their children are doing online.
Ericka Brown, a 16-year-old sophomore at Nitro High School, was reported missing on Aug. 10. Police say Ernest Michael Roach, 36, of Racine, Ohio, killed her.
Roach was charged with murder Tuesday morning by the prosecuting attorney in Meigs County, Ohio, where Brown’s body was found by campers along the Ohio River on Saturday.
Federal authorities also charged Roach on Tuesday with traveling across state lines to engage in illicit sexual conduct.
Roach appeared briefly in federal court in Charleston, wearing an orange jumpsuit with his wrists and ankles shackled.
Brown posted at least one advertisement on craigslist.com looking for men because she wanted money, according to a sworn written statement made in federal court by Kanawha County Sheriff’s Detective Ana Pile.
Brown wrote around Aug. 3, “seeking men - w4m I’m looking for $$ ill [sic] do anything for it, I am a girl,” according to a criminal complaint on file in federal court. She requested that she be contacted by text message and gave her phone number.
Deputies interviewed many people who corresponded with Brown before cellphone records led to Roach, according to Kanawha County Sheriff John Rutherford. Roach was questioned Aug. 27 after deputies tracked his cellphone number to one Brown had been in contact with. Police found him living in a tent on property that belongs to his relatives. He denied having any knowledge about Brown on Aug. 27, Rutherford said, but agreed to meet with deputies the next day to take a polygraph.
He fled the area and deputies obtained a federal warrant, which was unsealed Tuesday.
On Saturday, Roach was arrested by Ohio State Police in Washington County, Ohio, and brought back to West Virginia. Brown’s body was found while he was being questioned by police. It was wrapped in plastic and a ratchet strap, and a concrete block was attached to it.
“When he found out the body had been discovered, he did admit to his role in her murder,” Rutherford said during a news conference Tuesday. Cellphone records from Brown and Roach matched up with his confession, police said.
David Wayne Brown, Ericka Brown’s father, posted Tuesday on his Facebook page advising parents to find out who their children are talking to online.
“Make sure you know what sites they are on, children can be so private and thats a dangerous place to be, I don’t want any other family to have to go thru the pain my wife and me are going thru,” Brown wrote.
“Please hug your children tonight and tell them what they mean to you, [If i just] had the opportunity to hug and tell Ericka how much she meant to me one more time.”
“My heart goes out to the Brown family,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said at Tuesday’s news conference. “We see circumstances like these happening frequently, where a posting on an online bulletin board or an online relationship is struck up or social media relationship is struck up, and the person on the other end, you don’t know who they are.
“It’s happening time and again, where individuals connect over the Internet or over the Internet through social media, and from there it gets very ugly very fast,” Goodwin said.
Roach told deputies he met Brown in July for sex, according to the federal criminal complaint. On Aug. 9, deputies wrote, Roach again drove to Cross Lanes to have sex with Brown.
Police believe Brown was killed in the Portland area of Meigs County, Sheriff Keith Wood said Tuesday.
Roach is being held by federal marshals in South Central Regional Jail. He will have a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing Thursday, where federal prosecutors will ask that he be held without bond.
Roach has served jail time for offenses in Ohio, such as breaking and entering, receiving stolen property and fleeing from police, according to court records.
On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dwane Tinsley told Roach his financial situation allowed him to use the federal public defender’s office. Assistant public defender George Lancaster sat beside him.
“Yes sir,” Roach said to the judge when asked if he understood the charge against him.
“If convicted of this offense, Mr. Roach, you would be exposed to years in prison,” Tinsley said. The offense carries a maximum of 30 years in prison, Goodwin said Tuesday.
Authorities are still deciding how to handle the charges against Roach, Goodwin said, including whether to combine them or which would be prosecuted first.
But “nothing trumps murder,” Goodwin said. “Our goal is to prosecute this case in a way and in a jurisdiction that has the best evidence and will yield the most likely conviction and also the most appropriate sentence should we be able to secure a conviction.”
Staff writer Erin Beck contributed to this report. Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.