Boys tell how they rescued girl allegedly kidnapped by parks commissioner

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A park district commissioner is accused of kidnapping a 9-year-old girl and chasing her friends with a gun after they came looking for her. (WLS)

A park district commissioner in south suburban Ford Heights is accused of kidnapping a 9-year-old girl and chasing her friends with a gun after they came looking for her.

About 9:45 p.m. Saturday, Charles Howard invited the girl and three other kids to the front of his home in the 1500-block of Deer Creek Drive in Ford Heights, where he showed them a pair of 3-D smartphone goggles, according to a statement from the Cook County sheriff's office.

Charles Howard

When the three other children left, the girl stayed behind at the 56-year-old man's house, sheriff's police said.

After a while, the group realized they hadn't seen the 9-year-old for some time and they started looking for her. When they asked Howard, he told them he didn't know where she was, police said.
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A park district commissioner is accused of kidnapping a girl and chasing her friends with a gun after they came looking for her.

Juan Willingham, 14, said he and Jakarri Foster discovered her in Howard's backyard. They were not part of the group that originally went with the girl to Howard's house.

"Then the second time we went back there, she was back there. She had a lawnmower against her knees and a chair on top of her and a cord tied around her like this," Foster said, holding up his arms against his body.

Willingham said as he pulled the items off his friend, Howard came out of the house with a gun.

"He took out a gun, cocked it, aimed it as and we took off running," Willingham said.

Howard is a Ford Heights Village grounds employee and a current park district commissioner.

"It's very disheartening," said George Green, president, Ford Heights Park District. "It throws a bad light, not only on the park district, but it throws a bad light on the community at large, because the community is starting to turn around," Green said.

Green said Howard had not attended any of their events and had not been to a Park District meeting in months. The Ford Heights mayor declined to speak on camera, but said that Howard deserves due process.

A man who says he used to live next to Howard said he had been troubled by Howard's behavior around a female teenage relative.

"It's terrible. I got two daughters and I think that's a parent's biggest fear. You know, your daughter, that young, around a stranger. It shouldn't have been like that," said Johnny Banks, a former neighbor.

There also are those who withhold judgment.

I don't know what really happened in the situation. But always believe there's two sides to a story," said Jimmy Viverette, a village employee.

"I was very surprised they say he kidnapped a child. Because I've been knowing him all my life and I've never been knowing him to do anything like that," said James Harden, a neighbor.

The girl was rushed to the hospital for an examination. Her parents said it showed she had no injuries. But her mother said it's clear something happened.

"My baby, she's not doing good. Won't stay in her bedroom, constantly staying with me, which I understand," Tasha Woodson said.

The girl's parents thanked the two boys for bringing her home.

"If it weren't for the kids, no telling what could've happened," said Sweeny Woodson, the girl's father.

"They kept looking, kept looking. If it meant them giving their life - because basically, that's what they did. They could have given their life because this man chased them with a gun. But they were brave and they brought my baby home. They brought her home. I thank them for that," said Tasha Woodson, the girl's mother.

Howard was arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. He remains in custody after a judge set bond at $500,000 at a Monday hearing. He is due back in court July 1.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.
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