Thomas Evans, suspect in kidnapping of Charleston 4-year-old, arrested in Mississippi
A 4-year-old girl missing from Johns Island in Charleston County, S.C., was found alive Wednesday, Feb. 14, near Birmingham, Alabama, officials confirm.
Police officers in Riverside, Alabama said the child had been transferred to the custody of the Alabama Dept. of Human Resources, according to Andrew Donely, a reporter for ABC News 4 affiliate WBMA.
Authorities have identified the suspect as Thomas Lawton Evans, 37.
Riverside Police say he was taken into law enforcement custody in Mississippi Wednesday after initially evading their officers.
Riverside Police say they located Evans after investigating a report from a railroad crew of a suspicious vehicle in a wooded area along the tracks.
Riverside Police Chief Rick Oliver said Wednesday night that he and the local fire chief went to the area, and found Evans asleep in the vehicle with the missing child.
Minutes later, the child was in police custody, but Evans had gotten away, Oliver says.
"This is a blessing. This has nothing to do with luck," Oliver said Wednesday. "The good Lord put me in the place that I, as well as the fire chief, needed to be to take care of the little girl. His hand was on the little girl. No question."
Oliver said Evans was very nervous when confronted, and his location raised red flags immediately.
"He was way out away from where he needed to be," Oliver said. "There was no reason for him to be that far off in the wooded area."
Oliver said when he asked Evans to get out of the car and walk back to the police station with him, Evans asked if the chief would mind carrying the girl.
Oliver says the moment Evans handed the child to him, Evans bolted back toward the vehicle, and drove away. But, capturing Evans was secondary to taking care of the child, said Oliver, who says he is a grandfather.
Oliver says the child was nervous and clung to him after taking custody of her. Oliver says she was clothed in an adult hoodie and pajamas.
According to Oliver, Mississippi authorities say Evans led their law enforcement officers on a lengthy chase before he was stopped and aprehended. Evans was driving a blue Chevy Impala with an Illinois tag, Oliver says.
Lauderdale County Mississippi Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun tells ABC affiliate WTOK-TV the sheriff's department received a call from federal authorities at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday informing them Evans was coming into Mississippi.
Deputies watched for the vehicle and spotted it going down I-20/59 in Meridian, according to Calhoun. When deputies tried to pull over the vehicle, a chase began. The chase ended in Dekalb, Mississippi, where Evans crashed on a dead end road and was taken into custody without incident.
Evans was jailed at the Lauderdale County, Miss. Jail, where he was charged with felony fleeing, Calhoun told WTOK.
Oliver said there was "no doubt" when asked if Evans was the same person who kidnapped the girl. According to Oliver, Evans readily told him who he was when asked.
Evans has since been charged with kidnapping by the FBI in a federal case against him. The state prosecutor for Charleston County has charged Evans with several additional crimes in state court, including attempted murder, first degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of kidnapping, first degree burglary, armed robbery and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.
Evans has a prior arrest in 2009 by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office. He was later convicted of armed robbery and second degree burglary.
The child disappeared following a home invasion Tuesday that left the her mother brutally beaten and hospitalized.
The girl was found near Riverside, Alabama, roughly an hour outside Birmingham, near Talladega, authorities confirm.
Oliver says Riverside is a highly traveled area because of the Interstate 20 corridor between Birmingham and Atlanta.
Birmingham lies along a notorious human trafficking route, according to the Birmingham Times.
(Editor’s note: In light of additional details revealed regarding criminal aspects of this case, ABC News 4 has removed references to the victims’ names in order to protect their identities in the future.)