By KENNY HOWELL
Special to The Wilson Post
MT. JULIET A Gallatin man is dead after what authorities are calling a kidnapping by him of a woman, also of Gallatin, from a convenience store parking lot in Mt. Juliet on Wednesday, Sept. 21.
Det. David Stolinsky of the Mt. Juliet Police Department said during a press conference held Friday that the incident began at about 4 p.m., Wednesday, when the 18-year-old female was reportedly kidnapped by a male acquaintance at gunpoint when she met him at the Kangaroo convenience store in Mt. Juliet.
MJPD learned about the incident, he said, when they were contacted at about 1:40 p.m., Thursday, by the Aberdeen, Miss., Police Department regarding a possible kidnapping that occurred in their jurisdiction on Wednesday afternoon.
Through further investigation, authorities determined that the 18-year-old woman met Stephen Cronk, 58, of Gallatin, at the Kangaroo in Mt. Juliet. Stolinsky said the two had been friendly acquaintances since June but were not in a romantic relationship. Cronk reportedly told the woman he was going out of town and asked her to meet him at the store before he left.
She willingly met him at approximately 4 p.m., Wednesday, in the parking lot of the store in Mt. Juliet where Cronk revealed a handgun and forced her to remain in the passenger seat of his vehicle where he Cronk then drove to Aberdeen, Miss., where he rented a motel room where the woman was forced to go into and perform sexual acts through threats and intimidation by Cronks handgun.
Cronk became distracted during the encounter and left his handgun unattended. The woman was able to gain control of the handgun and fire once at Cronk, striking him in the abdomen. Cronk fled the hotel, and the woman barricaded herself in the hotel room and called 911 for help. Aberdeen, Miss., police responded to the scene and began investigating.
A search for Cronk was begun by Mississippi law enforcement agencies, MJPD and U.S. Marshals.
However, Stolinsky said at about 9 a.m., Friday, Sept. 23, MJPD received a call from Aberdeen police that Cronk had been found deceased inside his vehicle, a 2004 Nissan Frontier 4-door pickup truck, which was parked at a gas station in Hamilton, Miss., at approximately 6 a.m. A gas station clerk discovered his body. An autopsy is to be performed by Mississippi agencies to determine the cause of death.
Stolinsky said Cronk was not a registered sex offender. He did have a previous arrest in El Paso, Texas, although it was unknown as of Friday why he had been arrested.
No one knows why Cronk drove the woman to Mississippi, the detective said, adding the hotel room had not been booked earlier.
By all accounts, everyone thought he was a decent man, Stolinsky said, referring to people from Gallatin who knew Cronk.
As for the victim shooting Cronk, Stolinsky said, I feel very strongly her life was in grave danger.
MJPD declined to name the victim as, the detective said, This was something she really would like to forget. She was assaulted. She was very brave. She was very lucky. It was a matter of survival and she survived.
Editors Note: Kenny Howell is the managing editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet. He may be contacted at Editor@thechronicleofmtjuliet.com. Information from a news release from the Mt. Juliet Police Department was also used in this article.