A 16-year-old girl was walking near her high school in February 2013 when the unimaginable happened.
First, the girl was attacked from behind by a man wearing a ninja-style mask around 11 p.m. on Feb. 5, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Texas. Then the man dragged her through a grassy, wooded area near a movie theater in Cypress, Texas, where he hit her over the head with the blunt side of a hatchet until her skull was fractured, authorities said.
The masked man raped his 16-year-old victim, leaving her undressed and covered in blood, the sheriff’s office said. The girl pretended to be dead until the man finally fled the scene, she told police.
“She believed her attacker only left her alone once he believed she was dead,” Lt. Jerry Philpott, who investigated the case, said at a press conference Tuesday. “To this day, she still deals with lingering effects from the incident.”
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Naked and bleeding, the girl then walked to the nearby theater to get help, KHOU reports, and was rushed to the hospital. But for years, police were unable to identify a suspect in the Houston-area case — until this month, when genetic evidence taken from the girl finally led police to make an arrest.
Levi Austin Goss, 24 — a soldier in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. — has been arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and aggravated kidnapping, the sheriff’s office said. If convicted, Goss would face up to life in prison.
Last month, the U.S. Army alerted Harris County investigators that Goss’ DNA matched evidence from the 2013 Texas attack, the sheriff’s office said.
“This brave girl survived this savage attack and provided genetic evidence that has finally led to an arrest,” Chief Deputy Edison Toquica said at the press conference Tuesday.
Once the DNA linked Goss to the unsolved crime, Texas investigators spoke to a worker at an Exxon gas station near the attack who had seen the suspect the night of Feb. 5. The worker was able to positively identify Goss as the man he’d seen that night, police said.
The worker told police back in 2013 that he had observed a man going into the gas station bathroom just before midnight Feb. 5 to change out of a blood-stained gray shirt and into a clean white shirt, according to court records reviewed by WRAL. To explain the blood, the man told the gas station employee that he’d been in a fight.
Authorities found the bloody gray shirt in the bathroom the next day, KPRC reports. There was also blood spread onto the walls and floor of the restroom, police said.
According to police, Goss lived close to the crime scene in 2013.
Goss is being held at the Cumberland County Jail in North Carolina on $1 million bond, awaiting transfer to Harris County, investigators said.
Goss was arrested in North Carolina on Friday, the Fayetteville Observer reports, and did not contest his extradition to Texas during a court appearance on Monday.
The Army has released a statement on Goss’ arrest as well, saying it is cooperating with civilian law enforcement.
“Private First Class Levi Goss, an All American Paratrooper, is in civilian confinement,” the Army told KPRC in a statement. “He is under investigation by civilian law enforcement for an allegation that may predate his military service. We are cooperating with civilian law enforcement in this matter."
Goss is a private first class and a parachute rigger in the 82nd Airborne, a Fort Bragg spokesperson told the TV station. Goss enlisted on two years ago. The Army said his home of record is listed as Port Neches, Texas.