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An Idaho girl is found alive with convicted sex offender

Brother missing; police voice fear he may be dead

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- More than six weeks after she disappeared from a home where family members were bludgeoned to death, an 8-year-old girl was found safe yesterday, eating with a registered sex offender at a restaurant in her hometown.

The girl, Shasta Groene, was being reunited with her father, but her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, remained missing and was feared to be dead, said Captain Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office.

''Our initial information is that he may be deceased," Wolfinger said, adding that officials were continuing the search for him.

Joseph Edward Duncan 3d, a registered sex offender from Fargo, N.D., was arrested and charged with kidnapping. He was being held without bond, and Wolfinger said more charges were possible.

A warrant had been issued for Duncan, 42, for failing to register as a high-risk sex offender. He was also facing charges of molesting a 6-year-old boy in Minnesota. He was released on bail in April, weeks before the children disappeared.

Shasta was spotted by a waitress early yesterday just miles from the home where her mother, her older brother, and her mother's boyfriend were discovered bound and bludgeoned to death on May 16.

One police source, Amber Deahn, 24, said she thought she had recognized the girl eating onion rings, cheese sticks, and chicken strips with an older man. Shasta's picture has been posted around town, and has been shown in the media.

''It clicked in my brain that she looks familiar," she said.

Deahn tried to keep the pair at the restaurant by giving the girl crayons, coloring paper, and a mask from the movie ''Madagascar," and by offering the girl a dessert.

''I was trying to figure out a way to keep them there so the officers would have time to get there," she said.

It was not known where the girl had spent the past six weeks. She was being interviewed at a medical center.

''She's a little girl," Wolfinger said. ''Obviously she's been through a pretty traumatic time."

Tom Kraus, Brenda Groene's great-uncle in Whitefish, Mont., said family members were elated by the news of Shasta's return, and were hoping that Dylan also would be found alive.

''Obviously, we were very excited they found Shasta," Kraus said. ''We are hopeful they can find Dylan. We're very happy those folks at Denny's recognized her and that they found her."

Dylan and Shasta had been missing since May 16, when sheriff's deputies responded to their home after a neighbor reported that dogs were barking and that the door of one vehicle was open, but that no one was in sight.

The deputies found the bound bodies of Brenda Groene, 40, Slade Groene, 13, and Mark McKenzie, 37. The victims were bludgeoned to death.

Investigators had interviewed hundreds of people, searched through 800 tons of trash and fielded more than 2,000 tips. It was not known whether Duncan had a connection with the victims.

''We don't have any idea who Duncan is, other than a very, very sick individual. Sick and stupid to go to a Denny's at 2 a.m. with a child," Bob Price, Shasta Groene's paternal uncle, said from Tacoma.

Police were seeking a warrant to search a stolen red Jeep that officials said Duncan had been driving. In Fargo, officers were securing Duncan's apartment in a neighborhood where a number of North Dakota State University students live, said Sergeant Shannon Ruziska of the local police.

Duncan, whose criminal history dates back to 1980, enrolled at the university in 2000, majoring in computer science, and made the dean's list. When he moved to Fargo, more than 300 people attended a notification meeting.

Kerstin Haugen, who lives in an apartment building next door, said she had not seen Duncan for several months. Police stopped by looking for him, she said.

''He seemed normal," Haugen said. She said she was not aware that he was a registered sex offender when she moved in, but found out later from neighbors.

Duncan was convicted in 1980 of raping a 14-year-old boy in Washington state when he was 16.

Last July, he was accused of molesting a 6-year-old boy at a school playground in Minnesota. He had been released by Becker County, Minn., authorities in April on $15,000 bond and ordered to stay in touch with a probation agent. In May, authorities said they were seeking Duncan on a warrant after he failed to do so.

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