By Jeff Lehr
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A 12-year-old girl from Alabama was acting on her mother’s advice when she ran inside a truck stop near Joplin and sought protection from her stepfather.
The girl’s mother told the Globe in a telephone interview Wednesday that her daughter called her on a cell phone Monday night from the Pilot truck stop.
“She told me what he was doing to her,” the mother said. “I don’t want to go into specifics. I have my daughter to protect. But she told me what was going on, and I told her to go inside and hand the phone to the first person she saw who works there.”
The girl ran into the truck stop on Interstate 44 southwest of Joplin about 10:30 p.m. Monday wearing nothing but a T-shirt. She said she had been raped repeatedly by her stepfather, a truck driver, during a weeklong cross-country haul in his tractor-trailer.
The mother said the girl handed the phone to an employee. The mother then demanded to talk to the manager.
“I told him what was going on and that I wanted the law called,” she said.
Newton County sheriff’s deputies were summoned to the truck stop, and Delbert F. Glover, 48, of Town Creek, Ala., was arrested a short time later. Glover was charged Tuesday with three counts of statutory sodomy in connection with alleged acts with the girl in his truck outside the Pilot Travel Center before her escape. The Newton County sheriff on Wednesday confirmed the role of the girl’s mother in reporting the matter.
Sheriff Ken Copeland said the girl was taken Monday night to the Children’s Center in Joplin for a forensic examination and an interview by child-abuse investigators. Her mother was contacted and arrived in Missouri to pick her up Tuesday morning.
The sheriff said the investigation was continuing Wednesday into the route Glover took, and the stops that he and the girl made, with a likelihood that other jurisdictions may be notified of instances of alleged abuse of the girl committed along the way.
The girl’s 34-year-old mother told the Globe that she had permitted her daughter’s travel with Glover. She said she had been in a common-law marriage with him the past five years and had come to trust him.
“Never in a million years would I have thought this would happen,” she said.
She said that to her knowledge, Glover had never done anything like this previously. He always was outraged by news reports of sexual abuse of children, she said.
But she has not doubted her daughter’s account since first hearing it from her on the phone Monday night, she said. The mother said she had talked to the girl on previous occasions about appropriate and inappropriate touching by adults, and what she should do if anyone became inappropriate with her. She said they also had discussed the importance of never lying about such a matter or accusing someone falsely.
The girl had accompanied Glover on trips previously, perhaps as many as 10 times or more, and nothing of the sort had happened, the mother said. She acknowledged that this trip with him was longer than any of the previous hauls, beginning as it did in Tennessee and going to California and back.
The mother said she had driven her daughter to Tennessee from Alabama to meet Glover on June 14 at a stop there. The mother said she had been in telephone contact with her daughter several times since then, and the first time she had indicated anything was wrong was Monday night.
The news of Glover’s arrest in Missouri came as a shock to other family members in Alabama.
Karla Gilbert, his biological daughter from a previous marriage, expressed dismay in a separate telephone interview Wednesday. Gilbert, 28, said she loves both her father and her stepsister, and she cannot believe the charges against him.
“When it comes to kids, he’s always been loving and caring, and never shown any signs of what he’s been accused of here,” Gilbert said.
She said the girl, who no longer has any contact with her biological father, had come to regard Glover as her father. Gilbert said her father regarded the girl as his own daughter, and assumed the responsibility of supporting her and her mother and helping raise the girl. She said her stepsister “loved going on rides with Daddy.”
Gilbert said she communicated with her father and the girl several times via text messages and the girl’s Facebook page on the Internet while they were on their trip. She said the girl had been looking forward to seeing California and swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
“I know he took her to the beach while they were out there,” Gilbert said.
Glover text-messaged her a picture of the beach, and the girl sent a message reporting that the ocean water was not as cold as Gilbert had warned her it would be. Gilbert said it was her understanding that they arrived in California on June 17, and that her father had a two-day layover there before they started back.
While investigators say the girl reported that she was sexually abused every night of their trip, Gilbert said there was no hint of that in more than 30 text messages she received from her.
“There were times when she sounded bored,” she said. “But other than that, she was having fun. She never indicated she was unhappy or being mistreated.”
The girl’s mother told the Globe that her relationship with Glover is over. She said she intends to seek protection orders against him once she gets back to Alabama.
Gilbert and the girl’s mother remain on good terms, though. Gilbert shared a text message she received from the girl’s mother Wednesday afternoon. It read: “I hope you know that just because I have cut your father out of my life for good, I still love you.”
Truck driver Delbert F. Glover remained in custody Wednesday at the Newton County Jail on a cash-only bond of $20,000.