DICKINSON, Texas Jennifer Schuett was 8 years old when she woke up in a field, naked and covered with fire ants. The man who abducted her from her Dickinson apartment on August 10, 1990 had sexually assaulted her, cut her throat and left her in the field to die.
Schuett was slowly bleeding to death, but she couldn't scream for help because her voice box had been cut.
Fourteen hours later, some children found her and called for help. Schuett was rushed by helicopter to a Galveston hospital, barely alive.
Now, nearly two decades later, a suspect has been arrested and charged in the case.
Dennis Earl Bradford, 40, was arrested in Little Rock, Arkansas early Tuesday with assistance from Dickinson police and FBI agents from Houston.
A tearful Schuett thanked the investigators for their hard work and dedication.
Throughout this journey, I've had two main goals and they were to find the man who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and attempted to murder me 19 years ago so that he could not hurt anyone else, Schuett said. And to use my voice in telling my story to as many people as I possibly could over the years in hopes that I may encourage other victims of violent crimes to stand up and speak out against criminals.
Bradford had been living in Little Rock for seven years. He is married and has two children and three stepchildren, according to investigators.
Bradford served time in Arkansas for the 1996 abduction of a 35-year-old woman he had met at a nightclub. He also raped her and slit her throat. He was released from prison after serving four years of a 12 year sentence.
Bradford is charged with attempted capital murder in the Schuett case. If convicted, he could get from 5 to 99 years or life in prison.
Schuett, now 27, went public with her story last month. She was asleep in the apartment she shared with her mother when the man came into her bedroom through a window and carried her out to his car. When she woke up and tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth.
The man said he was an undercover police officer and offered her candy, but Schuett knew something was wrong. He tried to choke her four times as he drove through Dickinson. He made her duck down if another car drove by.
After dragging her through the field and raping her, the suspect used a pocket knife to slit her throat from ear to ear.
Schuett pretended to be dead, and he finally left.
The man told Schuett his name was Dennis, according to the arrest affidavit.
Investigators found Schuett's pink pajama top and underwear a few miles from where she was assaulted. They also recovered a man's T-shirt and underwear. Back then, large amounts of blood or body fluids were needed to test DNA, and there just wasn't enough.
Dickinson Detective Tim Cromie was assigned to the cold case more than a year ago. He teamed up with FBI Special Agent Richard Rennison.
The pair worked endlessly to breathe new breath into the life of this investigation, said Dickinson Police Chief Ron Morales.
Cromie and Rennison convinced the FBI lab to retest the clothing at their lab in Quantico, Virginia.
About that time, the FBI's Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team chose the Schuett case as one of five nationwide cold cases to focus on.
A $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest and America's Most Wanted featured the case.
Last week, the nuclear DNA testing in Quantico linked the evidence to Bradford. He was in their system because of the Arkansas kidnapping case.
Investigators learned he had lived in Dickinson in 1990. They compared his driver's license photo from back then to the composite sketch by HPD's Lois Gibson, and were convinced he was their man.
Dickinson's Police Chief said his only regret is that Schuett's grandfather wasn't alive to hear the news of Bradford's arrest.
There wasn't a month that went by that Jennifer's grandfather didn't come by my office or run into one of the officers in the community and want to know, 'What else have you done, what have you done lately about my grandaughter's case?' Morales said.
Her grandfather died earlier this year.
I'd like to thank everyone who has been involved, in one way or another, working on my case over the years, Schuett said Tuesday.
Galveston County District Attorney Kirk Sistrunk said Schuett, herself, deserves credit.
I tell you, Jennifer has been a tremendous asset to this investigation from the beginning, an inspiration to all of us and we are gonna be very proud to have Jennifer by our side as we continue to seek justice in the courtroom, Sistrunk said.
Schuett said she was unable to sleep alone until she was 17, but now refuses to live her life in fear.
Today, 19 years later, I stand here and want you all to know that I am OK, Schuett said. I am not a victim, but instead am victorious.
Doctors initially told her mother she would never talk again because of the damage to her voice box. After weeks in the hospital, she proved them wrong.
Now Schuett believes she got her voice back so that she could speak out about her experience.
I hope that my case will remain as a reminder to all victims of violent crime to never give up hope in seeking justice, not matter how long it may take or how hard it may be, Schuett said. With determination and by using your voice to speak out, you are capable of anything.
She hopes to get a degree in criminology so that she can use her own horrific experience to help other crime victims.