LOS ANGELES -- A 13-year-old Kentucky girl, apparently lured away from home by an electronic computer message nearly two weeks ago, has been taken into protective custody in Los Angeles after she contacted authorities.
Tara J. Noble called the local FBI office yesterday morning, a spokesman said, and agents then notified Los Angeles police, who picked the girl up from a phone booth on Hollywood Boulevard about half an hour later.
"She's OK," Tara's mother, Lisa Noble, said in a telephone interview from St. Matthews, Ky., a Louisville suburb. "She's tired, hungry and wants to come home."
The girl's photo had been included in a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, describing the disappearance of several teen-agers who were avid participants in computer bulletin boards. Tara phoned her mother that morning about the same time she called authorities.
Lisa Noble said her daughter told her: "I want to come home, Mommy."
The disappearance of Tara and other children has focused attention on the dangers lurking in cyberspace for children with access to computer chat services and e-mail where they can receive sexually explicit messages.
Tara left home after corresponding via the America Online computer network with someone identified only as George from San Francisco, who told her: "We can run around our room naked all day and all night."
Authorities were still piecing together the details of her 13 days away from home.
The girl was found a week after a 15-year-old Washington state boy, Daniel Montgomery, was discovered at the San Francisco airport after apparently responding to an invitation from a man, known as Damien, he met by e-mail.
Law enforcement officials, long concerned about material children have access to on the computer Internet, say they now worry that children could be lured into illicit sex or pornography via on-line computer services.
"This case demonstrates the need for parents to provide oversight and guidance to their children in the use of computers and to ensure that they are being used properly," the FBI said in a statement released in Louisville.
An America Online spokeswoman said the company offers a service in which parents can block out children's access to the kind of "chat rooms" where Daniel Montgomery met his contact, "Damien Starr."
In Tara's case, St. Matthews Police Chief Norm Mayer said the girl's mother contacted his department as soon as she realized she was missing. Until his investigators learned of Tara's computer interests, Chief Mayer said, her disappearance seemed to be a routine missing person case.
"Then we knew it would be a little more complicated," he said.
Once he realized that Tara had been corresponding with several people and that many of the e-mail messages were "sexually explicit," Chief Mayer said, he contacted both the FBI and the Secret Service.
In the Daniel Montgomery case, his computer contact sent the youth bus fare to San Francisco. But authorities did not say how Tara paid for her trip west.
St. Matthews police believe the girl first took a plane from Kentucky to Birmingham, Ala., where she may have met one of her computer correspondents and spent the night.
From Birmingham, Chief Mayer said, she took a Greyhound bus to California.
On the bus, police said, Tara struck up a friendship with another young girl who was traveling with her grandmother.
But at a stopover in Odessa, Texas, Tara made a phone call and never returned to the bus. That's where police lost her, Mayer said.
The other girl's grandmother later heard media reports about the missing child, recognized Tara's name and picture, and called police.
Chief Mayer said it is still unclear who aided the girl and what eventually encouraged her to turn herself in. But when she called her mother yesterday, the girl was scared and lonely, Chief Mayer said.
"I think she got in over her head," Chief Mayer said. "When she saw what was really happening, she decided to call the FBI."
Agents are continuing their investigation to see if any federal statutes have been violated, said Los Angeles FBI spokesman John Hoos.