IMAGE: William Joe Mitchell
AP
This undated photo released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows William Joe Mitchell, 46. He is accused of luring a 15-year-old girl from her home and later releasing her at a Wal-Mart.
updated 10/6/2007 9:28:40 PM ET 2007-10-07T01:28:40

A sex offender accused of running off with a 15-year-old Florida girl has been arrested, police said Saturday. The girl was released at a Wal-Mart store this week.

William Joe Mitchell, 46, was arrested by Virginia State Police at a gas station in Winchester, Va., according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in central Florida.

Mitchell is being held without bond at the Frederick County regional jail, said Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police.

State police were notified in midmorning that the U.S. Marshals Service had tracked Mitchell to a truck stop on Interstate 81, near the West Virginia border. Four state troopers surrounded Mitchell and took him into custody without incident around noon.

Mitchell was being served federal and state warrants, none from Virginia, said Geller, who had no further details. She did not know whether he had a lawyer.

Teen said she was in love
The 15-year-old girl spurred a statewide manhunt when she sneaked out of her house before dawn on Monday. She told friends she was running away for love, to be with a boy she met online. She believed Mitchell was in his early 20s.

The Associated Press is not naming the girl because she is a suspected sexual abuse victim.

Police believe heavy publicity in the hours after the girl disappeared pressured him into dropping her off at a Wal-Mart in the Florida Panhandle.

The girl told authorities Mitchell had a handgun and said he would kill her if she drew attention to herself in the store. He told her he was going to another part of the store and would meet her in five minutes, then disappeared, authorities said.

Mitchell had 14 prior arrests ranging from burglary and bomb threats to lewd and lascivious conduct, police said.

The girl ran away the day a new Florida law took effect making the state’s sex predator penalties some of the toughest in the nation.

The law requires offenders to register e-mail and instant message handles with authorities, information that will be shared with social networking sites like Myspace.com. The state also tripled the maximum sentences to 15 years for soliciting minors for sex and possessing child pornography.

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