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Woman escapes from cage in Oregon; FBI seeks more victims

Jun 29, 2023Jun 29, 2023

A man posing as an undercover police officer kidnapped a woman in Seattle, drove her hundreds of miles to his home in Oregon and locked her in a makeshift cell in his garage before she managed to escape and flag down a passing motorist, the FBI said Wednesday.

Negasi Zuberi, 29, faces federal charges that include interstate kidnapping, and authorities say they are looking for additional victims after linking him to sexual assaults in at least four more states.

“This woman was kidnapped, chained, sexually assaulted, and locked in a cinderblock cell,” Stephanie Shark, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland field office, said in a news release. “Police say she beat the door with her hands until they were bloody in order to break free. Her quick thinking and will to survive may have saved other women from a similar nightmare.”

After the woman escaped from his home in Klamath Falls, Zuberi fled the southern Oregon city of roughly 22,000 people but was arrested by Nevada state police in Reno the next afternoon, the FBI said.

Court records did not list a lawyer who might speak on Zuberi’s behalf on Wednesday. He hasn’t been assigned a public defender in Oregon because he’s still in Nevada, and it could take several weeks to have him sent back, said Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon.

A grand jury in Portland returned an indictment on Wednesday charging Zuberi with interstate kidnapping and transporting an individual across state lines with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.

According to the FBI, Zuberi has also gone by the names Sakima, Justin Hyche and Justin Kouassi, and he has lived in multiple states since 2016, possibly including California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Nevada.

A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon says Zuberi solicited the woman for prostitution in the early morning of July 15 along Aurora Avenue in Seattle, an area known for sex work. He then told the woman he was an undercover officer and showed her a badge, then pointed a stun gun at her, placed her in handcuffs and leg irons, and put her in the back of his vehicle, the complaint said.

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He then drove the woman about 450 miles to his home, stopping along the way to sexually assault her, the complaint states.

When they arrived at the house about seven hours after her abduction, he put her in a makeshift cell he had built in his garage — a cinder block compartment with a door of metal bars — and said he was leaving to do paperwork, the complaint says.

The woman “briefly slept and awoke to the realization that she would likely die if she did not attempt to escape,” according to the complaint.

She started punching the metal door and broke some of its welded joints, creating a small opening that she was able to climb through, Klamath Police Capt. Rob Reynolds said at a news conference.

“When she was trying to escape the cell itself, she repeatedly punched the door with her own hands,” Reynolds said. “She had several lacerations along her knuckles.”

The woman opened Zuberi’s vehicle, which was parked in the garage, then grabbed his gun and fled, leaving blood on a wooden fence that she climbed over to escape, the complaint said. She flagged down a passing driver, who called 911.

Two Nevada State Patrol officers tracked Zuberi down the next day at a Walmart parking lot in Reno, where the complaint says he was sitting in the front seat of his car holding one of his children and talking with his wife as she stood by the vehicle. He initially refused to get out of the car when the officers asked, and instead cut himself with a sharp object and tried to destroy his phone, the complaint states. Zuberi eventually surrendered, and the child was unharmed, it says.

According to the complaint, investigators interviewed Zuberi’s wife and neighbors. Authorities declined to say whether there was any indication that any of them had been aware of the Seattle woman’s abduction.

Investigators said that when they searched Zuberi’s home and garage, they found the makeshift cell, the woman’s purse and handwritten notes. One of the notes was titled “Operation Take Over” and included a bullet list with entries that read “Leave phone at home” and “Make sure they don’t have a bunch of ppl in their life. You don’t want any type of investigation.”

Another handwritten document appeared to include a rough sketch for an underground structure using concrete blocks, foam insulation and waterproof concrete.

The FBI said Zuberi may have used other methods of gaining control of women, including drugging their drinks. The agency said it was setting up a website on which people can come forward if they believe they may be his victims.

The Klamath Falls rental home where Zuberi allegedly took the woman is owned by the city’s mayor, Carol Westfall, and her husband, Kevin, according to property records. The house backs onto a park and is on a residential street, less than a quarter-mile from a highway.

Court records show that the couple evicted Zuberi after his arrest.

“We are shocked and dismayed by what has occurred,” the Westfalls said in an email. “We applaud the actions of the woman who helped capture this person and prevent him from committing further atrocities.”

The Westfalls also praised local, state and federal law enforcement for their work on the case. They declined to respond to queries about their interactions with Zuberi.