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Missing Mountain Home teen found in cave with alleged kidnapper

The search for Sara Gilpin is finally over after a nearly a month and a half long search, and her alleged kidnapper, Isaac James Melder, is currently in the custody of the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office.

Natalie Davis, the stepmother of Sara Gilpin of Gamaliel, Arkansas, had been searching for Gilpin since her class dismissed for the day at Pinkston Middle School in Mountain Home on May 12. Before her disappearance, Sara was living with her mother, Michelle Irene Gilpin, who also uses the last name of Simmons, and her siblings.

In an interview with KTLO, Mountain Home Police Criminal Investigator Lieutenant Mike Day said searchers found Gilpin living in a cave north of Summit in Marion County with Melder. Melder had previously been caught with Gilpin in Marion County after her first disappearance in January.

Day said that searchers had been looking in that area for several weeks based off of various information that had been discovered during the course of his investigation.

Multiple agencies were involved in the search of Gilpin including the FBI, U.S. Marshall’s Service, the Baxter and Marion county sheriff’s offices, Harrison Police Department, Arkansas Department of Corrections and the Mountain Home Police Department.

Day said an airplane, helicopter, several drones and dog tracking teams were used in the search for Gilpin and Melder.

Melder is currently charged with kidnapping, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, interference with custody, internet stalking of a child, and sexual indecency with a child.

His bond was set at $1,000,290.

A photo of Isaac James Melder’s mugshot after being booked during the early hours on Thursday morning. Photo by the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office.

Documents provided to the Mountain Home Observer reveal a troubled life for Sara, who was also prone to missing school and disregarding authority and had a Family in Need of Service Petition filed against her in the 14th Judicial Circuit Court of Baxter County Juvenile Division.

Incident reports from the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office reveal that Sara had a close relationship with Isaac Melder, who was stated to have bought several gifts for her, including a cell phone.

The January Incident

On Jan. 24, after arguing with her mother, Michelle, over her refusal to let Melder visit her at their house, Sara went missing around 7 p.m. after leaving to take a walk.  

The incident report from that night states that “Isaac James Melder was traveling to their residence to see the daughter after the mother stated that he was not allowed to come out to see the daughter. The daughter, who was on the phone with Melder at the time, became mad that she wouldn’t allow him out and stated that he was turning around and wouldn’t come to the residence.”

The report then states that Sara went for a walk along a trail near the residence and did not return. A neighbor who a Sheriff’s Deputy interviewed, dispatched to the scene said he saw a vehicle that Melder was known to drive, traveling the road to Sara’s home before quickly leaving.

The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office then put out an alert to nearby agencies about Sara’s disappearance. Investigators with BCSO were notified by law enforcement in Marion County that Melder and Sara had been pulled over in Summit, Arkansas. They were then transported back to Baxter County.

Melder was not arrested and has two warrants out for his arrest for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and interference with custody.

Following the finding of Sara and Melder during the first incident, the incident report goes on to state that Michelle Gilpin and Melder had been arguing and that he was supposed to have come to the house to work out their issues, but Michelle decided to not let Melder come to the house.

The incident report then states that “Mrs. Gilpin stated she had known Mr. Melder for the past two years, and that they were in a physical relationship for a short time, before terminating that part of the relationship. Mrs. Gilpin stated they remained friends and that Mr. Melder would frequently come to the house to help her and acted like a father figure to her children.”

The report continues stating “Mrs. Gilpin stated she lately started to notice that Mr. Melder and her daughter were communicating a lot more than usual. Mrs. Gilpin state he would buy her daughter things and not get anything for the other children.”

The incident report then details a late night event inside the Gilpin house.

“Mrs. Gilpin stated that on one occasion Mr. Melder was staying at the house overnight and that she awoke around 3 a.m. to find them both sitting next to each other on the couch with a blanket over their laps. Mrs. Gilpin stated they appeared to be watching a movie, but when Mr. Melder realized she was in the room, he jerked his arm that was resting on the top portion of the cushion away. Mrs. Gilpin stated the arm was not directly wrapped around her daughter’s neck and may not have even been touching her, but Mrs. Gilpin found the reaction of him seeing her presence weird. Mrs. Gilpin also advised that she was told on today’s date by a neighbor that she observed Mrs. Gilpin’s daughter and Mr. Melder holding hands when they were walking the dogs.”

In their filings, law enforcement noted that Sara was not entirely honest about the fleeing incident.

The report details that Sara claims to have walked approximately two miles to a bridge off of Highway 101, where she was then picked up by Melder who stated that he would take her to his mother’s house in Yellville to play with her dog. The detail contradicts the account of the neighbor who saw Melder driving towards Sara’s home. The deputy who interviewed Sara noted that she was lying and called her out on it. The report states that Sara stuck to her story.

Sara also denied having any consensual or non-consensual sex with Melder.

The report also details Sara’s claim that her mother invited over a “Chomo,” slang for child molester, to the house that day, who had a history of beating her. In the report Sara stated, “she does not feel comfortable when he comes over to the house and that [blank] has been violent with her mother in the past.”

The incident report then notes that text messages revealed that Melder received notification from Michelle that he was not supposed to contact Sara anymore but continued to contact her anyways because he wanted to “only tell her he could not come over to the house and that he was heading home.”

The report further states that, “Sara was not responding to his calls and asked if Mrs. Gilpin took her phone and why, because he paid for Mrs. Gilpin’s phone and that Mrs. Gilpin isn’t supposed to mess with Sara’s phone.”

After authorities found Melder and Sara, the incident report states that Melder was, for some unknown reason, allowed by those officers on the scene to drive back to the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office in his own vehicle, while Sara was transported in a separate vehicle.

The report notes that Melder failed to appear, and that during a subsequent phone call, asked to be allowed to show up the following morning because “he was tired and had a business to run.” The investigator also noted that Melder asked him to buy a hotel room for the night, which led to an argument between the reporting officer and Melder.

Melder called back and again stated his reasoning for not showing up until the next morning. It is documented on page 4 of the incident report that Melder never came in to give his statement and ducked investigators’ attempts to contact him by phone.

The Love Letter

As BCSO conducted their investigation, they uncovered a love letter from Melder to Sara.

The letter, which is handwritten, reveals that both Melder and Sara were exchanging an unknown number of letters with each other.  Natalie Davis stated that the pair were also exchanging as many as 15,000 messages over Xbox Live, an online service from Microsoft, which allows gamers playing video games on Xbox consoles to send each other direct messages.

Davis said Sara has used the service to speak to her and her father.

In the letter, Melder repeatedly makes references to God’s plans for both Sara and him, and that “I feel like it’s a sign from God to me that you do truly love me.”

Melder then goes on to state that, “I am the waiting one. I wait for the day we are free to be together forever.”

He also states, “I have never been loved the way you love me!!! You make me feel like the most blessed man on earth to have your heart and your love!! I want you to know because of how you love me and how you love God, that you have my heart too!”

A screen shot of the love letter sent to Sara Gilpin from Isaac Medler.

Moving Forward

Gilpin has been said to be safe according the various groups that have been assisting in trying to find her and is said to be receiving help. It is unknown if Gilpin will be released to her mother or her father following her alleged kidnapping.

Melder is considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.

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