A Camp Pendleton Marine accused of having sex with a missing 14-year-old girl who was found in his barracks last summer will face court-martial, military officials said Wednesday.
The decision comes three months after a preliminary hearing for Pfc. Avery Rosario, whose case grabbed attention after the girl's aunt posted a TikTok video raising questions and alleging the girl had been trafficked. The decision was made by Brig. Gen. Andrew Niebel, commanding general of 1st Marine Logistics Group.
Rosario is due in a Camp Pendleton court for arraignment Thursday. A trial date likely will be set at that time, officials said.
"As always, the command respects the legal process, the rights of the accused, as well as any other individuals affected by the case," reads a statement issued by the 1st Marine Logistics Group. "We will continue to release information as transparently as possible without interfering with the legal process."
Earlier this year, Rosario was charged with sexual assault and violating liberty restrictions for leaving the base without permission. The charges indicated the alleged crimes or violations happened June 27. His preliminary hearing in the case was Aug. 17 at Camp Pendleton.
Rosario's attorneys argued at that hearing that their client met the girl on Tinder — a dating app for adults — where her profile said she was 21 years old. They said Rosario believed she was in her early 20s, and that she had told their client and his friends as much.
Military police at Camp Pendleton found the girl in a barracks June 28. The military notified the county Sheriff's Department, and the girl was reunited with her family.
According to the Sheriff's Department, the teen's grandmother said the girl ran away from home June 9. She had run away on previous occasions but quickly returned. This time, with the teen still unaccounted for on June 13, the grandmother reported her missing.
No witnesses were called during the preliminary hearing, and much of the evidence — which included conversations on Tinder and Instagram — was not shown.
Instead, the prosecution filed its evidence directly with the Marine colonel who was tasked with recommending whether Rosario should face court-martial for allegations of sex with a minor. That colonel than made his recommendation up the chain of command, but Wednesday's statement does not indicate what the colonel's recommendations were.
Evidence filed by prosecutors included the girl's Tinder profile and conversations she and the Marine had on the app. Defense evidence included direct messages between their client and the girl.
Defense attorney Capt. Katherine Malcolm said her client had "a genuine belief that the woman he met on Tinder apps was 21 years old." Malcolm said the girl's profile stated, "I know I look young, but hey when I'm 30, I'll look like I'm in my 20s."
According to the defense, after the girl was found in Rosario's room, she told investigators she had been trafficked by a man for the last year, and she provided the man's first name. She told them the man was "pulling the strings." She said her "whole plan" was to get caught while on base, and that when she was found she would be finally safe.
However, the defense argued, the girl's credibility is at issue and her actions "were not the actions of somebody looking to be rescued."
Prosecutors did not make an oral argument during the hearing. That, too, was filed directly to the colonel overseeing the preliminary hearing.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.