Camp Pendleton

Camp Pendleton Marine appears for military court hearing after teen found in barracks

Private First Class Avery L. Rosario, a 4-year veteran of the Marine Corps, was identified today as the suspect in facing three counts of sexual assault of a minor and two counts of violating terms of restrictions imposed upon him.

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Inside a packed Camp Pendleton courtroom Thursday morning, Private First Class (PFC) Avery L. Rosario appeared before an Article 32 Hearing Officer, answering to charges brought against him alleging violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), including sexual assault of a minor.

Rosario, represented by military counsel Capt. Kate Malcolm and Capt. Mark Webb, appeared before Col. Douglas Hibshman, who presided over the hearing remotely.

During the nearly two-hour hearing, both the prosecution and the defense teams discussed evidence regarding the allegations.

None of the prosecution's 18 exhibits were presented, only described as Col. Hibshman reviewed the exhibit list with government prosecutor, Capt. Joshua Jones.

The charge sheet was obtained Tuesday by NBC 7 ahead of the Marine's initial appearance before a military judge Thursday.

Following the discussion of evidence, Col. Hibshman offered both sides an opportunity to present closing arguments. However, only the defense chose to share their closing argument in court. The prosecution opted to submit theirs in written form to the Colonel.

In their closing argument, Rosario's legal team outlined their defense and their version of the events.

Included in the defense's evidence were exhibits provided by government prosecutors showing the teen's Tinder profile, which they say was created under the presumed pseudonym Kayla.

In addition, screenshots showed an Instagram profile with the same name and messaging between Rosario and the teen, who the defense alleges was using those accounts.

Rosario's defense counsel acknowledged he was using Tinder and met a young woman named "Kayla", who on the application profile represented that she was 21 years old.

"Kayla" and Rosario matched and began messaging back and forth, according to the defense. They added that on June 26, "Kayla" initiated the conversation with Rosario and initiated wanting to move the conversation to Instagram. The teen provided PFC Rosario with her Instagram username and allegedly told Rosario to find her there.

Shortly after Rosario messaged "Kayla," she suggested the two get a hotel room together, the defense added.

Continuing with outlining their defense, Counsel shared that Rosario admitted he eventually drove to meet who he thought was "Kayla." They say that Rosario was driven by another individual who then brought her and Rosario back to the barracks where, the defense claimed, "Kayla" and Rosario engaged in consensual sex.

The next morning, Rosario left his barracks and went to a work party, leaving “Kayla” in the barracks, when two other people, including a Lance Corporal saw her and talked to her.

Rosario's defense counsel later brought up statements made by the victim while being interviewed by law enforcement, including along the lines of "When I got caught at the military base, that was my whole plan." She said her plan was “just to be found” and made comments that “I was finally safe."

During an interview with law enforcement, the teen allegedly claimed that she was being sex trafficked for the past year by a man named Hector and relatives, the defense counsel included in their closing argument.

Investigation Timeline: Teen Found on Camp Pendleton

  • Tuesday, June 13, 2023:
    • A 14-year-old San Diego County girl was reported missing to the Sheriff's Department by her grandmother
    • The teen’s grandmother told the deputy her granddaughter ran away from home on Friday, June 9
  • Monday, June 26, 2023 - Wednesday, June 28, 2023:
    • Rosario and "Kayla" engage in messages on multiple social media applications including Tinder and Instagram
  • Wednesday, June 28, 2023:
    • Military police at Camp Pendleton located the teen and informed the San Diego County Sheriff's Department
    • PFC Avery Rosario was taken into custody for questioning
  • Sunday, July 2, 2023:
    • Photos posted online of the marine being taken into custody
  • Tuesday, August 1, 2023:
    • Rosario was taken off of pretrial restriction and placed into pretrial confinement
  • Friday, August 4, 2023:
    • Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) charges are filed against Rosario
  • Friday, August 11, 2023:
    • Camp Pendleton officials publicly announce charges have been filed
  • Thursday, August 17:
    • UCMJ Article 32 Hearing (initial appearance) set

There is no set timeline on when charges will be referred to court-martial. Following Thursday's hearing, Col. Hibshman will review all the evidence presented and will present a recommendation for further action.

Further action could include a general, special or summary court-martial, three levels of military judicial hearings, or may only include non-judicial punishment.

Recommendations made by Hibshman also are not required to be considered, and Rosario's command could choose a different option than what is recommended, as was the case during the Article 32 hearing of Ryan Mays, who had originally been charged with, but later found not-guilty, the fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020.

NBC 7’s Amber Frias reports.

The Charges

Rosario faces two charges, consisting of five total counts, all of which are alleged violations of the UCMJ.

According to the charging documents, military prosecutors outline three specific counts in which they allege Rosario violated the first charge, Sexual Assault of a Child who has attained the age of 12 years.

The allegations include three instances in which the Marine is accused of performing sex acts against a child, between 12 and 16 years old, on or near Camp Pendleton on June 27, 2023.

Additionally, the documents detail the prosecutor's belief that the Marine, who was allegedly under liberty restrictions, violated those restrictions on the same day.

Liberty restrictions limit where service members are and are not allowed to go, or in what types of vehicles they are allowed to operate, if at all, and are typically issued as a punishment or as a form of pre-trial confinement.

Prosecutors allege that on June 27, the Marine left Camp Pendleton and traveled to San Diego and did so in a non-government vehicle, both of which are separate allegations that led to the breach of restriction charge.

The liberty restrictions imposed on the Marine were related to a previous case unrelated to the teen found in the barracks, Captain Charles Palmer, Communications Director for Camp Pendleton's 1st Marine Logistics Group, previously told NBC 7.

The charges were filed by a member of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton's Headquarters and Support Battalion on Aug. 4.

"After the preliminary hearing, the command will review all charges and evidence to determine whether the case should be tried by court-martial," Palmer said via email.

Preferred charges don't automatically result in the accused facing a court-martial or trial. The charges will have to be referred to trial, which is when the decision is made to formally prosecute the Marine.

After being detained by base police on June 27, the Marine was placed on pretrial restriction beginning July 10 until Aug. 1, according to court documents. He has been in confinement since August 1, 2023.

Teen Found on Camp Pendleton

A then-missing 14-year-old girl was found in the Camp Pendleton barracks by military police during the day on June 28; her grandmother had reported her missing on June 13. At a news conference on August 7, the teen's family said the she had been "trafficked and raped" by the Camp Pendleton Marine.

At that news conference, Cassaundra Perez, the girl's aunt, expressed to reporters her frustration at what she called the lack of transparency of the investigation being conducted by NCIS and demanded more be done to protect Native American children from sex traffickers.

All visitors are stopped by Marines at the entrance to the sprawling base and required to show authorization to enter the base, However, Marines or those with base access are allowed to bring a visitor on base and into the barracks, acting as their sponsor.,

It remains unclear how long the girl was at the barracks, however, Rosario's defense confirmed they only began interacting on June 26, more than two weeks after she ran away.

Single junior Marines are generally assigned to a barracks where most share a room with at least one other Marine. The rooms generally have two single beds, a small refrigerator, eating area, secretary desk, closet and wall lockers. The barracks also have common areas with pool tables and TVs.

According to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, her grandmother reported her missing on June 13 and told authorities she had run away from home four days earlier. She told the deputy who interviewed her that the girl had run away before but only for brief periods.

The teen's information was entered into multiple missing person databases, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the sheriff's department said.

After she was found on base, authorities returned the girl to her grandmother, according to the sheriff’s department.

The Teen Line provides peer-based support from trained teenagers who are available every evening to field calls and texts. Call 310-855-HOPE (4673) or toll-free at 800-TLC-TEEN from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET or text TEEN to 839863 from 3 and 6 p.m. ET. Teen Line also responds to emails and has a message board.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached toll-free 24 hours a day at 1-888-373-7888. Support is available in more than 200 languages. The hotline can also be reached by texting BEFREE to 233733. Authorities urge those who suspect trafficking to also contact local police.

The Associated Press contributed to parts of this reporting.

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