Man accused of running off with stepdaughter faces sex charge

Julian Salazar left Christmas Eve with 16-year-old, found in SW Florida


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The 29-year-old stepfather of a Jacksonville teenager who disappeared on Christmas Eve and was found safe in Southwest Florida two days later is back in Jacksonville and facing an additional charge.

Julian Salazar Zavala was arrested in Hendry County, Florida, last Tuesday and charged with interference with child custody. On Saturday, he was transferred to the Duval County jail, where he also faces a charge of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He is being held on $450,000 bond.

Two days after a missing child alert was issued for the 16-year-old girl, Zavala's pickup truck was spotted in LaBelle. Zavala was spotted running and was  taken into custody, according to the Hendry County Sheriff's Office. The girl was found was found safe in a nearby motel room.

In addition to the two criminal charges, Zavala could face deportation. In 2016 court documents, his attorney said he was a citizen of Mexico, not the United States.

The family told News4Jax that Zavala used to live the Arlington home with his wife two years ago, but they are in the process of being divorced. The family said they became suspicious that something was going between the teen and Zavala.

The pair left the teen's Arlington home about 11 p.m. Sunday. The family said they were concerned because, even though the girl appeared to leave voluntarily, Zavala has a criminal history and has shown he can be violent.

Zavala was charged with domestic battery by strangulation in August 2016 after a neighbor reported seeing him choke his wife. According to the arrest report, "He held his hands around the victim's throat for approximately 30-40 seconds before releasing his hold on her neck.”

While Zavala originally pleaded guilty, his attorney filed a motion that it be withdrawn, claiming his client didn't understand the court forms because they were in English and he only speaks Spanish. In November 2016, Zavala's motion was granted and he was not prosecuted.

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