A Marine charged by military prosecutors with sexual assault of a minor after a missing 14-year-old girl was found in his barracks at Camp Pendleton, California, met the girl on Tinder, his lawyers said Thursday.
The Marine was identified at the hearing as Pfc. Avery L. Rosario.
According to the defense, Rosario was using Tinder when he met the girl. Defense lawyers emphasized the platform was for casual hookups and sex between adults.
In the teen’s profile, she claimed she was 21 years old, the defense said. The two then began messaging on the platform. The defense said she initiated the conversation and asked that their conversation be moved to Instagram, where she gave Rosario her username.
Rosario was detained after the girl was found at Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, on June 28, more than two weeks after her grandmother reported her missing to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Rosario also faces a charge involving a previous incident.
On Friday, Capt. Charles Palmer, of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, said in a statement of the charges:
“Military prosecutors have charged the Marine with allegations of sexual assault of a minor and violating liberty restriction from a prior unrelated case. After the preliminary hearing, the command will review all charges and evidence to determine whether the case should be tried by court-martial."
At the hearing Thursday at Camp Pendleton, it was disclosed that Rosario is charged with sexual assault of a child between 12 and 16 years old. The government also presented exhibits that included activity on social media of a Tinder profile and conversation on the dating forum, an Instagram profile and screenshots of text messages involving Rosario.
Other government exhibits included a Naval Criminal Investigative Services interview with Rosario and Rosario's roommate.
Rosario's defense presented an exhibit of a recorded conversation between him and the teenager that occurred between June 26 and June 28.
It was also said at the hearing that Rosario is charged with breach of restriction and accused of leaving restriction requirements to remain on base and leaving restriction requirements not to leave base in a nongovernment vehicle.
The interaction between the two began June 26, according to Rosario’s defense.
The defense also said that she suggested the two get a hotel room.
Rosario eventually picked her up, and the two had consensual sex at the barracks, the defense said.
The next morning, Rosario went to a work party and left her in the barracks. Two other people, one of them a lance corporal, saw her and talked to her, the defense said.
When authorities questioned her, the defense said, she admitted that her social media profile said she was 21. The profile, in part, read, “I know I look young but hey when I’m 30 I’ll look like I’m in my twenties.”
The defense said that in an Instagram message, Rosario gave her an opportunity to clarify her age and that when he asked her whether she’s 21, she responded that she was actually 22.
The defense also said Rosario willingly interviewed with NCIS and allowed a full search of his phone.
The defense brought up statements the girl made when law enforcement interviewed her, which included, “That was my whole plan,” in reference to being caught at the military base, because she was “finally safe.”
The girl, according to the defense, said she had been sex-trafficked for a year by a man named Hector. Rosario was in no way involved with Hector, the defense said.
The girl was found under the covers of the bed in the barracks, snoring with the television on, the defense said.
Her grandmother reported her missing June 13 after she had run away from home four days earlier. The grandmother said the girl had run away before but always returned home quickly, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said.
Authorities entered the girl’s information into missing persons databases, including that of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the sheriff’s department has said.
Once she was found, the teenager was returned to her grandmother, the sheriff's department said.
The Teen Line provides peer-based support from trained teenagers who are available every evening to field calls and texts. Call 310-855-HOPE (4673) or toll-free at 800-TLC-TEEN from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET or text TEEN to 839863 from 3 and 6 p.m. ET. Teen Line also responds to emails and has a message board.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached toll-free 24 hours a day at 1-888-373-7888. Support is available in more than 200 languages. The hotline can also be reached by texting BEFREE to 233733. Authorities urge those who suspect trafficking to also contact local police.