WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — A man who previously lived in Winter Haven and Lakeland was arrested Tuesday for 'horrific acts' towards young children, according to the Winter Haven Police Department.
Police investigated the claims against 37-year-old Manuel McGhee, for four months leading up to his arrest in Knoxville, Tennessee. He faces two counts of sexual battery on a child under 12 years of age.
"He was taking very young children, didn't matter the gender, male and female, that he had influence over at specific times," said Jamie Brown with the Winter Haven Police Department.
During their investigation, police discovered that the allegations against McGhee span multiple states and dated back to at least 2006.
Winter Haven police began investigating McGhee in late 2018, after the mother of one of the victim's came forward with her daughter's claims. Her daughter, now 15, said that McGhee sexually abused her from the age of five until she was 11. She says it took place in Winter Haven and other locations throughout Polk County.
"Back in November of last year, 2018, we received a call from a parent here in our city stating that her 15-year-old daughter had mentioned to her that she had been sexually abused by a family friend," said Brown.
Police say an interview with the victim revealed "extremely horrific and explicit details of the abuse she incurred."
She told authorities that her older brother was also a victim of McGhee.
Winter Haven authorities learned two separate reports were made to the Lakeland Police Department in 2013 regarding the brother and two additional victims. The brother disclosed the details of the abuse to his parents at that time, who reported it to the Lakeland Police Department.
However, authorities say the victim was scared of what McGhee would do and did not disclose details of the abuse to Lakeland police in 2013. At that time, McGhee still lived in Polk County. Those charges were formally dropped.
During the 2018 investigation, however, the brother did disclose those details to Winter Have police. His abuse mirrored that of his sister's, police say. He told police his abuse started when he was eight or nine years old in North Carolina then continued to Winter Haven and Lakeland. It would have started during the years 2009 and 2010.
While reviewing the reports from the 2013 allegations, Winter Haven police discovered McGhee was accused of similar abuse back in 2006 while he was in the Army and stationed at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.
Police learned that McGhee was charged and arrested on 15 counts of sexual battery on a child. That abuse was similar to what the victims in the Winter Haven investigation claimed, police say. Winter Haven detectives learned that the Army contacted the Cumberland County N.S. Superior Court, where the incidents had occurred, with an interest in prosecuting.
McGhee was a soldier at the time and the alleged abuse took place in his living quarters. However, the case was dismissed due to lake of evidence, according to Winter Haven police.
"Those agencies investigated whether they saw them unfounded, couldn't get physical evidence whatever the case may be," explained Brown.
After learning of the alleged abuse from 2006 in North Carolina, Winter Haven authorities traveled to Georgia to make contact with another victim who was identified in that report. That victim told police she was abused by McGhee in North Carolina in 2007 when she was nine years old. A sibling of hers also detailed abuse in a separate interview, Winter Haven authorities say.
Based on the totality of the statements made by numerous victims across multiple agencies, Winter Haven authorities traveled to Knoxville to serve an arrest warrant. McGhee was taken into custody and is awaiting extradition back to Florida.
"I can say one thing - that I am so proud of our Detectives and their tenacity to ensure that there are no more children that this monster can hurt," said Public Safety Director Charlie Bird. "The path of emotional and physical destruction he caused is reprehensible and we will do everything within our power to make sure he will never be able to hurt another child again."