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Runaway marine held, girl united with parents

London, July 16 (Reuters): A former US marine who ran off with a 12-year-old British girl he met in an Internet chat room was arrested in Germany today and she was reunited with her relieved family.

Toby Studabaker, 31, was detained in Frankfurt, bringing to an end a four-day international manhunt involving detectives in Britain, France, Germany, Ireland and the US.

British police said they are sending two officers to Germany and will apply for Studabaker’s extradition to Britain, where Shevaun Pennington was reunited with her distraught parents.

German magistrate Clemens Becker said any extradition request would be studied. He expected Studabaker to be brought before a judge tomorrow afternoon.

In Britain, investigating officer Peter Mason said Shevaun was not with Studabaker when she was found.

“Shevaun was en route to this country... they had separated,” he said. Her mother Joanna broke down in tears and clutched her husband Stephen’s hand as she described their overwhelming sense of relief. “This is absolutely unbelievable,” she said. “I cannot tell you how relieved I am. It is such a turnaround from days ago which seems years ago. It is absolutely fantastic,” she said.

Her first words to her daughter were: “How are you'” and “give us a hug.”

Shevaun left their home in Wigan, near Manchester, on Saturday. It later emerged she had gone to meet Studabaker and the pair had flown to Paris together.

The previous day, he had flown from Detroit to Manchester to be with her. Police say they had been in touch with each other for some time via e-mail after making contact through an Internet chat room. The case rekindled concerns in Britain and abroad about so-called “grooming” by adults, who contact children via the Internet.

Earlier today, Shevaun’s mother said her daughter had called to say she was safe and that she was with Studabaker, but had refused to say where she was. Studabaker’s family also say the former Marine has been in contact, both with them and the FBI.

Studabaker was given an honourable discharge from the US military on June 30 after serving for more than three years. He was a lance corporal based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

His sister-in-law, Sherry Studabaker, said the whole incident was a mistake and had been blown out of all proportion by the media.

She said Studabaker believed Shevaun was 19, not 12, and would never hurt a child.

”He's not that type of person and we really do not like what is being said about him. This was all a mistake and a misunderstanding,” she told Sky Television by telephone from her home in the United States.

”I'm just happy that it's all over with.”

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