ALEXANDRIA, Minn.-Two of the three suspects in the kidnapping and assault of 15-year-old Jasmine Block were best friends and had attended high school in Alexandria together, said the mother of one of them.
Lisa Barker, mother of suspect Thomas Jay Barker, 32, lives not far from the trailer house where police say the three men held Jasmine prisoner even as family and law enforcement officers desperately searched for her in the days and weeks after she disappeared.
Thomas Barker and Joshua Holby, 31, lived together in the trailer house, Lisa Barker said. She said she visited the trailer house regularly, but that often her son wasn't home when she stopped by. She said she saw no sign of a girl being held there, and that she will believe her son is innocent until the court case is complete.
Her son has cerebral palsy and uses a walker to get around, but was able to clean his house and work on his cars, she said. At one point, he ran Lakes Area Taxi in Alexandria.
"Even though he's disabled, he can pretty much do anything," she said. "I would say he's pretty smart."
Her son is married and has six children, including a month-old son with his current wife, she said. His wife and son live in Alexandria, not in the Carlos trailer house. One of his children lives in the same mobile home park as Jasmine, which was why he was familiar with that area.
Holby had worked at Elden's Fresh Foods in Alexandria for a while, she said, but she didn't know what he was doing lately. She said he was "such a quiet person."
She said she had met the third suspect, Steven Powers, 20, of Mankato, but didn't know much about him. She didn't know how her son and Holby knew him.
Lisa Barker said she had followed the search for Jasmine on Facebook, but nothing she saw or heard ever indicated that her son was involved.
"I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this," she said.
She wondered aloud that if the three men truly were involved in Jasmine's disappearance, why none of them stopped it.
"I'm glad she's home safe," she said. "I'm glad that she's a strong girl and got away."
The three men all have minor criminal records.
Thomas Barker has the most checkered past. A search of Minnesota court records dating back to 2003 shows that he's pleaded guilty or has been convicted of seven misdemeanors that include two fourth-degree burglaries, three disorderly conduct charges, displaying a BB gun in a threatening manner and domestic assault, along with a dozen driving-related petty misdemeanors.
This past May, Barker faced three misdemeanor charges: domestic assault by causing fear of immediate bodily harm or death, intentionally inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm on another, and disorderly conduct by committing offensive, abusive, noisy or obscene behavior.
In an agreement, Barker pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge and the other charges were dropped.
However, on Aug. 22, two weeks after Block was reported missing, Barker violated the terms of his parole and was ordered to serve another 10 days in jail on the disorderly conduct charge. He was scheduled to start the sentence on Sept. 8, and his probation was continued under the same terms and conditions.
Powers has been convicted of a gross misdemeanor charge: aiding and abetting a theft in Stearns County; three misdemeanors: two thefts and disorderly conduct for brawling; and four petty misdemeanors: three involving alcohol or drugs and speeding.
Holby has been convicted of misdemeanor theft and four petty misdemeanors, all driving related.
Amanda Lavine, owner of Carlos Ag and Grocery, said Holby and Barker came into the store sometimes, usually separately. Barker usually came in with several friends who would help him get around, she said. They were nice and polite in the store, she said, but also seemed odd and somewhat slow, mentally.
"Did I think they were capable of this?" she said. "No."
Carlos Police Chief Ralph Bradley said he had occasionally talked to Thomas Barker during the time he lived in Carlos, usually about his cars. In fact, he'd talked to him just two weeks ago when Barker's car broke down a block from the trailer house. Barker's cerebral palsy didn't let him get around very well, but his friends helped him, he said.
Bradley said he never saw any hint that Jasmine was being held at the trailer house.
"I don't recall seeing any girls over there," he said. "It's always been guys."