|Investigators searched a pasture yesterday behind the home of Michael Jacques, an uncle of the girl. He was arrested Sunday. (STEFAN HARD/TIMES ARGUS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
BETHEL, Vt. - The search for a missing girl in Vermont has taken another dramatic turn, the arrest of a second man in an alleged child sex ring.
Authorities are not saying if there is any connection between the search for 12-year-old Brooke Bennett and the two arrests police made while investigating her disappearance.
The latest arrest, announced yesterday, is that of the girl's stepfather, 40-year-old Ray Gagnon of San Antonio. Vermont State Police charge he sexually assaulted a minor in the Royalton area last summer.
On Sunday, State Police arrested Brooke's uncle - Michael Jacques, 42, of Randolph - and charged him with aggravated sexual assault. Jacques has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which involve a girl other than Bennett.
Court papers indicate that the second girl told police Jacques was to be her trainer in a "program for sex" and that she had met three men affiliated with the program.
Girls in the program were warned that "the first [girl] who does it lives and the second gets her throat cut," according to an affidavit filed Monday in Vermont District Court for Orange County.
Colonel James Baker, head of the State Police, said that authorities were considering all possibilities, including that the sex ring was a ruse Jacques created to intimidate the girl into having sex with him.
State Police say Jacques, a registered sex offender, is also a "person of interest" in Brooke's disappearance. She was last seen a week ago today.
Police did not say when or where Gagnon was arrested.
A court appearance for him yesterday on a state charge of aggravated sexual assault was abruptly canceled, and federal prosecutors said he would be arraigned on federal charges today.