Police on Thursday announced the arrest of a 35-year-old man in Bolivia who had been wanted for kidnapping a young girl in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat (Barcelona) and holding her captive in a jungle.
According to authorities, Grover Morales had been hiding out with the nine-year-old girl for the past seven months, holding her hostage in at least three different areas of a Bolivian rain forest before authorities caught up with him.
Morales allegedly forced her to walk for days in dense areas in which he literally had to clear a path with a machete, police said.
Spanish Civil Guard officers spent four months tracking Morales in the Yunga de Totora jungle and sought help from coca growers in the region.
Police sources said Morales decided to keep the girl to himself and eventually wanted to marry her
On March 8, authorities found the girl sleeping on a dirt floor in a shanty community.
“She started crying when she heard us speaking a language she was familiar with,” said Civil Guard Captain Álvaro Moreno during a press conference.
He explained that the coca growers were interested in helping authorities capture Morales because they didn’t want police snooping around in the area.
The girl, of Moroccan origin, was subjected to hellish living conditions, being given poor food and having to work with her captor in the coca plantations, Moreno said.
Jordi Domènech, an inspector with the Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra police, said that the girl was allowed to travel with the 27-year-old Morales last August but on the condition that he would return her in seven days. When he didn’t show up with the girl, the parents filed a complaint on September 5.
In an interview with Bolivian reporters, Morales said that the girl’s parents allowed him to take her in exchange for gold he was expected to bring back. The two traveled to Madrid from Catalonia by bus and boarded a plane to Bolivia.
But police sources said that Morales had decided to keep her to himself and eventually wanted to marry the girl. They haven’t ruled out sexual abuse.
The Mossos were reluctant to give many details about the case or say whether the girl’s parents are also under investigation.
Even though the man – a Bolivian national – was arrested in his own country, Civil Guard officials said they held little hope that he would be extradited to Spain to face charges.
Morales had been a neighbor to the girl’s parents and gained their trust, convincing them that he had converted to Islam. He had reportedly been living in Spain under a false identity.
Police said that he had been charged in Bolivia for raping his two sisters but the case fell through when their mother convinced them not to testify against their brother.
The girl was being held in a juvenile center, waiting to be returned to her parents in Spain.