With dognapping cases on the rise across the country, Semaj, the 13-year-old owner of a Yorkie Terrier was distraught when she discovered that her dog was held for ransom after being sacked from her front porch. Her mother, Raquel Witherspoon, found some spine-chilling footage from the security cameras on her porch that showed a young woman with dyed-red hair who lured Avery with treats and then took off with him. Semaj was disturbed by everything that had transpired concerning her dog Avery telling Washington Post that she relied on her dog for emotional support and consolation. Soon, Witherspoon’s phone had buzzed with texts which had obvious grammatical errors along with profanities.
“Y’all not gettin y’all dog baxc y’all payin 1200 no funny’s,” the text read, threatening to kill the dog and demanding a ransom. Witherspoon knew she had very little time and had to take immediate action because Avery’s life was clearly in danger. “It’s like losing a child,” she said. Her worry attracted the attention of neighbors, TV news, police, and a former Marine Corps intelligence operator who had taken down al-Qaeda militants on the battlefields of Iraq. “I’m going to get your dog back,” Witherspoon promised Semaj.
Witherspoon decided to pay the demanded amount and get the dog back. She recalled telling the dognapper that Avery means the world to Semaj to which they replied “ha ha.” As per the Prince George’s County police, Avery went missing after being reported as a lost dog but after getting a hold of the video evidence from the front porch, they said Avery was stolen.
Soon after, Witherspoon stood in front of the Channel 7 news camera and showed a photo of Avery saying, “I want Avery back,” as Semaj stood next to her. Rick Machamer, who resides in Arlington, saw the news and decided to step in. Machamer had served during the Iraq War and claimed to have provided the Marine Corps with human and signal information which helped them in capturing al-Qaeda and rebel commanders in al-Anbar. He currently owns Dark Ember, a corporate intelligence firm that conducts opposition research for political campaigns and other investigations. “I have two dogs of my own,” said Machamer, talking of his Norwegian elkhound and a Pomeranian. “I couldn’t fathom my reaction if someone took one, especially if they sent a picture of one in a cage.”
Machamer gathered all the evidence from the phone number through which they sent messages and the video footage. He traced the number on the internet and extracted the geolocation information from the picture of Avery in the cage using suitable software. He even stored the dognapper’s number on his phone knowing that it might automatically link to the owner’s Instagram account and show up on Machmer’s Follow suggestions. The results, which were a “tantalizing lead” showed a profile for a body piercing business that had a post linking back to the owner’s personal account. Machamer spent hours on Google and found a post of the police talking to a family about the missing dog wherein a person who looked like the dognapper from the video footage was found.
Witherspoon was doing her own research when she got to know that the house which was identified by Machamer was behind Avery’s dognapping. Prince George’s police charged a 16- year-old in the Landover residence. The girl pled guilty in advance of trial and revealed that she had kidnapped the dog to extort money from Witherspoon. The police did not disclose her name as she was a juvenile and her father refrained from commenting. The police brought Avery back to Semaj who hugged him and the pair went outside to play. “I was like, ‘They got him back!’ said Semaj. “I didn’t want to face the reality of not seeing my dog again.”
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