A registered sex offender, whom police described as a predator, was arrested after police deployed a drone and drew on help from the media and the community, Lt. Matt Stephens said Wednesday at a news conference.

Justin Spence, 39, of Columbia was arrested Wednesday on East Forest Avenue on suspicion of first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, unlawful use of a weapon, armed criminal action and illegal possession of a firearm.

"Without each individual piece of our community's collaboration in this case, we would not have come to an end as quickly as it did," Stephens said. "I will add that the suspect is a predator who had no intention of stopping, and without the community help, he would have continued to prey on and victimize other people in the community."

The charges are connected to his suspected involvement in a Tuesday morning home invasion, in which a 38-year-old woman told police a man came through a window into her home 2:33 a.m. Tuesday on East Forest Avenue and made sexual advances towards her. When she screamed, the man ran from the residence but turned and shot at her.

The victim was shot but without life-threatening injuries, according to Columbia police.

Two hours earlier Tuesday and a half-mile away on foot, a woman had reported a man looking through the windows of her residence on Pendleton Street, according to previous Missourian reporting. Police believe it's possible the suspect is responsible for both incidents.

Spence pleaded guilty in 2000 to a rape in Pemiscot County involving an 87-year-old woman and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was incarcerated on June 11, 2001, and released July 10, 2018, according to the Department of Corrections . Spence also has a pending charge for failure to register as a sex offender in Clay County.

Stephens attributed the success of the investigation to a joint effort by patrol officers, detectives, the news media and community members.

The department received useful tips from the community that helped identify the suspect. Officers launched a drone to track the suspect , and detectives assembled a photo lineup for the 38-year-old victim, Stephens said.

Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said part of Spence’s motivation was sexual assault, which he noted is vastly underreported. That implies the possibility of additional victims. Jones encouraged potential victims to come forward.

Spence was being held in Boone County Jail without bond.

  • General assignment reporter, summer 2020. Studying news reporting. Please reach me at feiyusu@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

  • I'm the public safety and health editor at the Missourian and a professor in the School of Journalism. I'm experienced in directing investigative projects. Call me at (573) 882-1792 with story tips, ideas or complaints.

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