The girls, aged 16 and 17, who were abducted at gunpoint from a lovers’ lane on Thursday night, were rescued 100 miles away after the kidnapper crashed his getaway car and was shot by police.
Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks said he was certain the attacker was just minutes away from killing the girls and had chosen a remote location in the high desert. He said the girls had been raped.
“He was hunting for a place to kill them and bury them,” Mr Sparks said.
The suspect showed a gun when two deputies arrived and said: “No way, no way,” according to the sheriff. The deputies shot him seven times.
Television footage showed the sobbing girls being bandaged for what appeared to be minor injuries. The girls were taken to a hospital.
Hospital administrator Peter Bryan said they were “coherent, awake, alert,” but he declined to discuss their condition.
The abduction launched a 12-hour manhunt across the southwestern United States.
The kidnapper was identified as 37-year-old Roy Ratliff, who had a long criminal history and was charged in October with raping a 19-year-old relative but was never apprehended.
The girls were abducted at 1am on Thursday in the Quartz Hill area outside Lancaster by a gunman who bound the girls’ dates with tape. The kidnapper drove off in a Ford Bronco that belonged to Brooks’ date, leaving behind a car the FBI said was reported stolen in Las Vegas last month.
Acting on a tip, authorities spotted the Bronco near Lake Isabella, a two-hour drive north of Lancaster, with the girls inside the vehicle. After a mile-long chase, the Bronco veered off the road in the high desert and crashed, Kern County sheriff’s Cmdr Chris Davis.
“We were able to rescue the females. The suspect ran off, but refused to surrender and was shot by deputies, he said. Davis said he did not know whether the man returned fire.
After the kidnapping was reported, authorities swiftly issued an “Amber Alert”, using radio and TV bulletins and electronic freeway signs.
It was the first time California authorities have used the plan named for Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old who was kidnapped in 1996 and later found dead in Texas. There are at least 12 statewide plans across the country.