Missing Colleton Co. Children Found Safe

A little more than 12 hours after three small children were reported missing in the small Colleton County town of Smoaks, the three missing children were found locked in a closet at a nearby abandoned home, according to a family member. Deputies would not confirm the closet was locked, however.

Now sheriff’s deputies say they are re-interviewing family members and treating the area where the children disappeared and were found nearly 18 hours later as a crime scene.

Sheriff Andy Strickland said crews had been in the home where the children were found early in the search, but had not found the children at that time. The abandoned home is about 100 yards away from where 2-year-old Shamyra, 3-year-old Eugene, and 4-year-old Mya were playing. Strickland would not say Thursday morning who owns the trailer.

Strickland said crews worked through the night, going back over areas they had searched previously in the hopes that the children would show up.

“Our number one goal was to bring the children back safely. We’re glad it didn’t have a different outcome,” Strickland said.

He said the three children were safe and other than being tired, hungry, and thirsty, appeared to be OK. Still, medical crews were making sure the children were not suffering any other ailments after spending a night outside.

Strickland did not answer several questions about how the children ended up in the home or how they were missed on earlier searches, saying it was too early in the investigation to have those answers. He had not talked to the children at the time of the press conference, Strickland said.

The children were last seen playing in their front yard on Bent Gate Lane around 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Earlier Thursday, family members pleaded for the children’s safe return.

“There’s nothing to say but pray they OK and I just want them to come home. They’re out there somewhere. Somebody please, please feel my pain and just bring them back,” said the mother of Shamyra and Mya, Kimberly Jones.

Deputies treated this as a case of kids who may have “wandered away” from home, Lt. Shane Roberts said. But the children’s grandmother Tracey Valentine believes the kids were “taken” and pleaded for their safe return.

Valentine said the children were being watched by her brother from across the street. “I don’t know if he turned his back for a minute or he walked off and when he looked back they were gone,” she said.

Valentine said she thinks the kids left the front yard, went to the side of the house where they were playing with some trucks that had previously been on their back porch. She said she believes someone took the children from the side of the house because that’s where the toys were left.

“They’re not going to wander off,” she said. “I know my grandkids. They’re not gonna wander off.”

She also said she believes the children were taken by someone who knows them because the kids would not go with a stranger.

Still, Roberts said there is no information to lead them to believe the children were abducted.

“With that, we have to continue as the nature to call came in, and that the children were playing in the yard, the family member came outside, discovered them missing called us and because of the area, being such a wooded area, low bottom swampy area, we have to treat it as that they wandered off,” he said Thursday morning.

Charleston County’s aviation unit and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources are assisting. Search parties are using aircraft, ATVs and K-9 units. According to the Associated Press, the search was suspended around 2 a.m. Thursday and resumed at 7 a.m. when the search area was expanded.

“Of course last night it was very dark. We tried to utilize aircraft to search the area, ATV’s, k-9 units, and so forth, however, darkness is against you so we want to be able to utilize the sunlight today. It’s lit up the area, and we can give this area a thorough search, unless any other information comes forward to lead us otherwise,” Roberts said.

Roberts said officials may put a call out for volunteers later Thursday but don’t want to disrupt the search zone.

Despite calls for an Amber Alert on social media, deputies investigated the children’s disappearance as though they wandered away from their home, which does not meet the criteria to launch a statewide Amber Alert call.

“The way I understand it, I think they have to have, the children that are missing and believe that are abducted, and of course going in we didn’t have any reason to believe the children were abducted from friends and family it was more of a search and rescue,” Roberts said. “Also we didn’t have any information to believe, of who may have abducted the children, if that was the case, so therefore because everything went towards a search and rescue or if they had wandered off, that’s how we have treated it.”

Categories: State