No one wants to imagine what they would do if their child was kidnapped, but it’s an unfortunate reality some parents have to face.
It’s only made worse when you figure out just how sick and twisted some of these kidnappers can be – it’s almost impossible not to imagine the worst! So when 57-year-old Gary Simpson signed his 9-year-old niece out of school one day, her family was worried.
Police released surveillance video of Simpson, who had recently lost custody of the girl, stocking up on supplies at a Walmart and Save-A-Lot before they vanished.
The 57-year-old’s haul included a girl’s zebra-striped, two-piece swimsuit, a pink-and-purple fuzzy blanket and a 12-pack of Fruit of the Loom girls’ panties.
He also picked up two pairs of girls’ pants, a pink camping chair, a star-spangled nightgown for a child, two shades of bright lip-gloss, and green and purple glittery nail polish, officials said.
Donnie Lawson, Stuart Franklin, Larry Hamblen and Roger Carpenter — a Baptist minister — were searching a rural property out in Hawkins County when they stumbled upon little Carlie Trent and her uncle, 57-year-old Gary Simpson, Franklin told the Daily News.
Franklin held Simpson, wanted for kidnapping the girl last Wednesday, at gunpoint while Lawson went to call the authorities. The remote area was accessible only with four-wheel drive vehicles and had limited cell phone service, said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn.
Authorities initially told reporters only two searchers had found the missing girl, but Franklin said four were there when they made the joyous discovery.
“This is just two heroes that went onto the property just to see, by chance, could they be there,” Gwyn said. “And they were.”
The girl and her uncle were discovered just 20 miles from Rogersville, where Carlie had been in school last Wednesday when Simpson pulled her from class under the false pretense that her father had been in a serious car wreck.
When Carlie never got off the school bus that afternoon, her family began to worry and contacted police. Authorities in Eastern Tennessee began a search that evening; an AMBER Alert was issued the next day.
“I’m very worried. I’m very concerned,” Gary’s wife, Linda Simpson, 54, told the Daily News at the time. “I think she’s in a lot of danger. I don’t see why you would kidnap a kid if you weren’t up to something bad.”
Simpson is charged with especially aggravated kidnapping, though the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it could pursue additional charges if warranted.
“I never thought he’d actually take off with a kid,” Gale Trent, one of Carlie’s uncles, told The News on Thursday. “He was always a little different in his own way, but never did I see anything like a kid was in danger. If I had I would have acted on it. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
Authorities suspect Simpson was moving around because homeowners in the area had previously checked their properties without finding any signs of the girl or Simpson.
“Everybody here is overjoyed that they found her,” Gale Trent told The News by phone. “We haven’t seen her yet — they’re taking her to get checked out at the hospital — but everybody is very happy about this.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received more than 2,000 tips and reported sightings from at least 19 different states before Simpson was captured and the girl saved Thursday afternoon — just miles from home.
Franklin, who helped find Carlie, said his group had ridden some 90 miles on ATVs searching some 40 rural properties Thursday. They were about ready to give up for the day when they checked one last area in Gravelly Valley.
Franklin told The News he isn’t allowed to divulge details of the moment they found the girl, but thanked the community for their prayers.
“Prayers do work and the girl is safe now,” he said. “If there is hope in every situation like this when looking for missing people, every person in the community needs to do their part in looking and helping search buildings and places for missing folks.”