Eighteen months after a Mississippi man appeared to kill himself and then disappeared, authorities have located and arrested him, claiming he faked his suicide to avoid prosecution on 14 criminal counts that include the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl.
“We are very happy and my daughter just cried,” said the mother of the alleged victim, who PEOPLE is not identifying, according to the Sun Herald. “She feels safe now.”
Scott, an Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, had agreed before his disappearance to plead guilty to the criminal charges against him, reports the Sun Herald. But he asked if he could have time to schedule a surgery first.
The judge agreed, allowing Scott to remain free on bond after his initial arrest.
Then he disappeared.
On July 30, 2018, Alabama authorities learned that Scott’s abandoned dinghy had been found about a mile offshore from Orange Beach, with a handgun, a small amount of blood and a suicide note all onboard the boat, reports the Sun Herald.
Less than two hours later, a U.S. Marshal who went to Scott’s home to alert family members found them with Scott’s cell phone, a separate suicide note and his medication all laid out on a counter, “as if they were waiting for the detectives to arrive,” according to an arrest affidavit in the case, reports Biloxi TV station WLOX. A laptop computer on the kitchen counter also revealed that someone already had been researching options for a gravestone.
The agent hadn’t yet told them he believed Scott was dead, the affidavit states.
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Investigators later learned that, six weeks earlier, Scott had transferred $47,000 from one bank account to another, from which he then wrote a check to withdraw $45,000 that authorities have never been able to trace. The previous month Scott also transferred the title of his red Ford Mustang to his brother, alleging that he wanted to keep it from his future ex-wife, according to the arrest affidavit.
The U.S. Marshals Service initially described Scott as an armed and dangerous survivalist who “may be living/hiding off the grid.”
A tipster in December 2018 reported seeing Scott in Denver, Colorado, where his mother and two siblings live. Scott was also seen in July 2019 in a Colorado mountain cabin along with his mother, brother and sister by someone who knew him, but who did not know at the time that Scott was wanted.
Last week, the U.S. Marshals Service added Scott to its 15 Most Wanted fugitive list, and coordinated to broadcast his face and story on Investigation Discovery’s In-Pursuit with John Walsh.
Authorities said a tipster on Wednesday subsequently reported that Scott was believed to be staying in a camper at a mobile home park in Antlers, Oklahoma. U.S. Marshals and local sheriff’s deputies descended around midnight that night.
“After several call-outs, Scott exited, but refused to acknowledge he was the fugitive,” the Marshals’ Service said in a statement. “He finally admitted to his identity after authorities verified his tattoos.”
In a news conference Thursday, Angel Myers McIlrath, the district attorney for Jackson County, Mississippi, thanked federal, state and local officials who assisted across three states to arrest Scott.
“This was certainly a collective effort, and if it wasn’t for the dogged determination of these investigators … we may have never known the truth about Mr. Scott’s disappearance,” she said. “We believed that he was alive, and we were confident in your ability to apprehend him and locate him.”
She also thanked the Oklahoma tipster. “We tell our community all the time that if you see something, say something,” she said, “and this individual did just that, and we are grateful.”
An attorney for Scott was not immediately identified.
The fugitive was arrested and jailed in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, pending extradition to Mississippi where he faces a 14-count indictment for alleged crimes including sexual battery, touching a child for lustful purposes and exploitation of a child.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said at the news conference with McIlrath that his office will continue to look into whether others aided Scott’s alleged effort to deceive investigators.
“We are going to follow every trail we can,” he said. “If there are some other people involved and we can make a case, we are going to pursue it.”