OAKLAND -- A 36-year-old man with a violent criminal history was charged Tuesday with kidnapping a teenage girl with the mental capacity of a second-grader from the Fruitvale BART station, beating and repeatedly sexually assaulting her, authorities said.

Gary Steven Atkinson of San Francisco faces multiple counts of kidnapping, rape and lewd acts with a minor. Oakland police arrested Atkinson on Sunday near the Fruitvale BART station, where he had been captured on surveillance video the night police say he abducted the teen.

"This is by far one of the most sickening cases I've seen in my career," police Chief Howard Jordan said at a news conference announcing the charges.

Atkinson was charged Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court with kidnapping, three counts of rape of an incompetent person, three counts of a lewd act upon a child and one count of attempted lewd act on a child. He faces a lifetime in prison. The 16-year-old victim is considered incompetent because she has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old, police said.

Atkinson also has five prior felony convictions, including assault with a deadly weapon, second-degree robbery, second-degree commercial burglary and two petty theft convictions, according to court documents.

The most recent charges stem from a violent encounter with the teen that began Nov. 27, after the girl walked away from the Fred Finch Youth Center, where she had been living, in the 3800 block of Coolidge Avenue. Two staff members followed her to the BART station, but never physically tried to stop her.


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Police said Atkinson encountered the girl at the station and forced her to ride with him on a train to San Francisco, where she was held against her will, beaten and sexually assaulted. Court documents say Atkinson took the teen to his residence in San Francisco, where she was sexually assaulted multiple times before she was able to escape Nov. 29, the documents say.

Police said the girl, who did not know her attacker, found her way to a Muni bus. She was the only passenger on the bus, and the driver became concerned and contacted San Francisco police that evening.

When found, "she was disoriented and very scared," Oakland police Lt. Leronne Armstrong said.

Police said the teen picked out Atkinson from a photo lineup as her attacker.

Her father, Jesse White, of Santa Maria, visited his daughter over the weekend and said it also appeared, from the severe bruising on her neck, that the suspect had strangled her.

He said his daughter is "stable" now and back in Washington with her mother. After initial comments, her mother has declined to speak further about the case. White did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

The teen had walked away from her youth home in East Oakland about 7 p.m. Nov. 27. She walked about two miles to the Fruitvale BART station, all the while being trailed by two group home staff members -- one on foot and one in a car, Fred Finch CEO Tom Alexander has said.

Alexander declined Tuesday to answer follow up questions, but issued a statement saying center officials are "relieved that an arrest has been made."

"No member of our community deserves to experience such violence, least of all one of the most vulnerable members of our society," the statement said. "We remain committed to doing all we can to help this young person and her family heal from this event."

BART police and Oakland police searched the station at some point the night the girl disappeared, but the Fred Finch home did not notify her mother and father that she was gone until 9:30 a.m. the following day, the parents have said.

The teen's picture was distributed to local law enforcement.

The teen had been living at Fred Finch for the past six months, and this was the third time she had run away, her mother previously said. By law, the group home cannot be locked.

The California Department of Social Services has opened an investigation into the incident. A spokesman there said Fred Finch had reported the runaway incident to the state, as required by law. Michael Weston, spokesman for the state, said he did not know how long that investigation will take, but there was nothing new on the probe Tuesday.

Fred Finch is a 14-bed facility for youngsters ages 12 to 18 with developmental disabilities and other issues. Teens usually receive treatment for 18 to 36 months, officials said.

Reach Kristin J. Bender at kbender@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/kjbender.