13-year-old girl trafficked from Kansas rescued in Clayton County

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

33-year-old suspect preyed on victim on Roblox app, police say

A 13-year-old girl who ran away from home in Topeka, Kansas, was rescued in Clayton County last week after she was trafficked there by a 33-year-old Riverdale man who is accused of raping her, police said.

Howard Graham was arrested Tuesday and is facing multiple charges and a federal investigation, Clayton police spokesman Capt. John Ivey said during a news conference. Graham was booked into the Clayton County Jail on counts of rape, sexual exploitation of children, interference with custody and sex trafficking, online jail records show.

The girl was reunited with her family Friday and has returned home to Kansas, Ivey said.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Ivey said the suspect met the girl through the online gaming platform Roblox. They began chatting in the game Feb. 18, and by that Sunday, Graham had traveled to Topeka to meet the girl near her home after she snuck out. After picking her up, Graham drove back to Riverdale, a round trip of more than 1,600 miles that takes more than 24 hours by car.

Once they arrived at Graham’s home in Riverdale, Ivey said the 33-year-old raped the 13-year-old “many times” over the course of several days.

According to Ivey, Graham’s roommates believed the girl was his stepdaughter. After staying several days in their house, the girl told one of the roommates that she wanted to go home. The roommate replied that she should speak with her father, leading the girl to reveal the nature of her abusive relationship with Graham, police said.

The shocked roommate later confronted Graham when he returned home from his job at IHOP, Ivey said. After the confrontation, the girl was taken to a Dollar General and dropped off.

Before she was left at the store, the girl was able to send her mother a message about her location through the Roblox chat. She was later found at the Dollar General by police officers responding to a call the girl’s mother made from Topeka.

Graham was arrested while at work Tuesday and confessed to many of the accusations police gathered through the girl’s account of the ordeal, Ivey said. Charges against Graham are also pending in Kansas, and Ivey said the FBI will investigate the case as well.

“We’re extremely lucky we found this girl, and she’s alive,” Ivey said.

Police have executed a search warrant at Graham’s home and confiscated his computer and other electronics. Ivey said the investigation would be “time-consuming” as police review all of the data, but he did not rule out the possibility that it could lead to more victims and additional charges.

A spokeswoman for Roblox, the gaming platform where Graham allegedly communicated with the victim, said law enforcement officials have not contacted them about this case, but they “always cooperate with law enforcement requests and promptly report any suspect behavior to relevant organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”

“We were deeply saddened to hear about this case,” the spokeswoman said. “There is nothing more important to parents — including the many parents who work at Roblox — than ensuring that children are safe when they learn and play, online or off. We work tirelessly to prevent grooming on our platform. We have stringent safety systems and a team of thousands of moderators who enforce a strict set of community standards on Roblox, including zero tolerance for sexual content of any kind.”

Graham remains in the Clayton jail without bond.

— Please return to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for updates.