An upcoming film is shedding new light on one of the most shocking incidents in Philadelphia history; the kidnapping of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither caught on camera nearly a decade ago.
“Kidnapped Off the Road: The Carlesha Gaither Story” is scheduled to air Saturday, February 10, on Lifetime. It tells the true story of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither, a woman who was kidnapped at knifepoint in Philadelphia and held hostage for three days.
The kidnapping of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither and the ‘hero’ who tried to stop her
On November 2, 2014, Freeland-Gaither, a nurse’s aide who was 22 at the time, was returning home after visiting her gambling den.
At 9:40 p.m., Freeland-Gaither got off a bus and began walking along West Coulter Street in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood.
As she walked, a man, later identified as Delvin Barnes, grabbed Freeland-Gaither and threw her into a gray Ford Taurus that was parked across the street. Surveillance video captured the abduction.
Police said Freeland-Gaither tried to fight back by hitting Barnes with a hammer. He then threatened to kill her if she didn’t stop.
Dwayne Fletcher told NBC10 he witnessed the kidnapping. He was walking along Greene Street, near Coulter Street, when he heard Freeland-Gaither screaming. He ran back to Coulter Street where he saw Barnes pushing Freeland-Gaither into the car. Fletcher said he yelled at Barnes but backed off when he noticed Barnes was carrying a 12-inch knife.
“He heard me because I was screaming, ‘No! You! What are you doing?! Well, you!’ I don’t know if her screams overpowered mine, but [Barnes] it was moving fast though,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher called 911 while watching Demi’s rear passenger window shatter. At first Fletcher thought it was a gunshot that broke the window. He would later learn that Freeland-Gaither took him out trying to escape. Moments later, the car was gone and Fletcher called the police again. He also took Freeland-Gaither’s smartphone and glasses that were on the ground. The officers immediately arrived at the scene.
“I just cried and cried. I don’t even know it, but it just happened,” Fletcher said. “I feel like I didn’t do enough at the time.”
Jim Sloan, who was a Philadelphia police detective and lead investigator on the case at the time, would later credit Fletcher with helping investigators rescue Freeland-Gaither.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think the same result would have happened. This man is a hero,” Sloan said during a press conference in 2014.
The multi-state search for Carlesha Freeland-Gaither
The video of the violent kidnapping made national headlines. Freeland-Gaither’s mother, Keisha Gaither, wept as she prayed for her daughter’s safe return.
Investigators with the ATF received information to be on the lookout for the Ford Taurus. Authorities released surveillance images as the search expanded from Philadelphia to Aberdeen, Maryland, where Barnes used Freeland-Gaither’s ATM card on the morning of Nov. 3, 2014.
A tip from a woman who lived in Havre De Grace, Maryland, also helped investigators in their search. The woman found a bag of trash that included a receipt from an ACME supermarket in Northeast Philadelphia, a bag of Herr’s potato chips and broken glass. The woman told NBC10 she didn’t think much of it at first, but later called police after talking to a friend about Freeland-Gaither’s kidnapping.
Investigators analyzed surveillance video from ACME Northeast Philly. The video showed Barnes buying the same chips the woman found in her driveway.
Investigators also tracked Barnes’ Ford Taurus through a GPS device that was placed inside the vehicle by the car dealership. Officials said the seller installed GPS in the sedan when Barnes bought it because he had bad credit.
The rescue of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither and the arrest of Delvin Barnes
On November 5, 2014, investigators found Barnes and Freeland-Gaither inside a damaged Bull in the parking lot of a mall in Jessup, Maryland, after receiving a tip from the ATF Office in Richmond, Virginia. Law enforcement surrounded the vehicle. Barnes then climbed from the back seat to the front seat as ATF agents drove their cars to block Demi.
Freeland-Gaither screamed for help as agents rushed in, saying she was the woman who had been kidnapped in Philadelphia.
Barnes was arrested after exiting the vehicle, and Freeland-Gaither, who suffered injuries but was in good condition, was taken to a Maryland hospital.
Sloan recounted meeting Freeland-Gaither at the hospital.
“I entered the room. She was upset. “I just said, ‘I’ve been looking for you,'” Sloan said. “She started crying and hugged her mother.”
Freeland-Gaither returned to Philadelphia three days after the kidnapping. Her mother smiled as she spoke during the news conference announcing that her daughter had been found.
“I’m taking my baby home,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Delvin Barnes had ‘problems with women’
At the time of his arrest, Barnes was already wanted on charges of attempted murder and rape related to a separate incident in which he raped and attempted to kill a teenager in Virginia in October 2014, according to officials. Investigators said Barnes hit the teenager with a shovel and took her to a mobile home where he doused her in bleach and gasoline before she fled.
Barnes told investigators he didn’t know Freeland-Gaither and picked him up at random, hoping to steal money from him so he could travel to Virginia to see his daughter.
Barnes pleaded guilty to kidnapping and was sentenced to 35 years in prison on June 30, 2016. The 47-year-old now remains incarcerated in a federal prison in California pending federal trial in the multi-state case, according to online records.
Aside from the two incidents in 2014, Barnes had an extensive criminal history.
He was arrested in November 2005 by Philadelphia police and charged with rape, burglary, aggravated assault, terroristic threats and reckless endangerment, according to court documents.
Police reports obtained by NBC10 said Barnes had beaten, sexually assaulted and held his estranged wife captive, defying a protection-from-abuse order. The woman is also the mother of his child, family members said.
Barnes’ uncle told NBC10 that his nephew was the son of a minister and had problems with women in the past.
“It’s just hard for me to accept her wickedness, not necessarily surprised,” Barnes’ uncle said. “You know some men grow up having problems with women, so they object to women. Apparently, he is one of them.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), visiting www.thehotline.org or texting LOVEIS to 22522.