Fugitive couple in custody

WASHINGTON, Pa. — Two Belmont County residents who had been on the run from law enforcement since mid-October are now in custody.

Wesley Alan Burgde, 46, reportedly left the area with his two children and their mother after detectives found evidence of child pornography in his Flushing home. Belmont County Western Division Court Judge Eric Costine signed an arrest warrant for Burdge on Oct. 12, charging two counts of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor. This past Thursday, a warrant was also issued for Tabitha Gallagher, 38, the children’s mother. She was wanted for obstruction of justice.

Belmont County Sheriff David Lucas said Saturday that the U.S. Marshals Service apprehended the couple in Washington, Pennsylvania, sometime overnight Friday. Lucas added that the children were found with the couple, and that they now are in the custody of Belmont County Children Services.

The investigation began when detectives served a search warrant for John Garwon III at the 108 Markatan St. residence in Flushing. Reports indicate Garwon and Burdge were roommates there. The warrant for Garwon came the Internet Crimes Against Children Division of the Belmont County Major Crimes Unit received evidence from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children indicating that Garwon had been sharing child pornography on the internet.

Detectives did not find Garwon at the residence, but they spoke to Burdge. The officers collected digital media devices from the home and left with plans to seek Garwon at a local restaurant where he worked. When they returned to the house, they reportedly found that Burdge had left with the children, ages 5 and 1, and Gallagher. An initial forensic preview of the digital evidence allegedly revealed that Burdge also had been in possession of child pornography.

When detectives found and arrested Garwon, he allegedly told them that he and Burdge were sharing pornography together and had been targeting children to sexually abuse. Garwon was charged with two counts of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor. He has appeared in Belmont County Western Division Court and was bound over to Belmont County Common Pleas Court. His case will be reviewed by a grand jury this month. He is being held in jail in lieu of $250,000 bond.

Ryan Allar, chief detective for the sheriff’s department, has said there is no evidence that links Burdge’s children to the pornography.

“We took a massive amount of digital media devices such as laptops and a great deal of terabyte external hard drives that had the capacity to be filled with so much information,” Allar said. “It is going to take us a monumental amount of time to go through and examine. So far, we have not discovered anything that we consider to be shot at that residence at this time. One of my detectives right now is just pouring through so much vile and disgusting matter.”

Allar said trying to make sure the children were safe was law enforcement’s top priority as they searched for the couple. He said there were concerns because the children have medical needs.

Lucas said Saturday that the children would be taken to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus for examination and any needed care. He plans to release additional details of the case on Monday.