A North Carolina family is rejoicing and planning a welcome-home party for an abducted 6-year-old girl who was found alive Thursday morning.
The girl was found covered in mosquito bites and chained to a tree in a wooded area about two miles from her Wilmington home, where she was snatched from her driveway Wednesday evening. The girl had been missing for about 16 hours, according to Wilmington’s NBC affiliate, WECT.
New Hanover County jail records show that a registered sex offender, 46-year-old Douglas Nelson Edwards, has been charged with first-degree kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child. Edwards is being held in lieu of a $9 million bond.
WECT reported that the little was recovering from her ordeal at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Family members described her as smiling and happy to be back with her loved ones.
They described the girl as having a beaming smile and an infectious laugh. Those were missing, though, when Jason Mehalko and Peter Marchese saw the girl Thursday morning.
The men were driving to work when they were flagged down by law enforcement officials who had found the victim, WECT reported. Investigators needed bolt cutters to free the girl from the chains binding her to the tree.
Mehalko and Marchese didn’t have bolt cutters, but they did have a saw. They grabbed the tool and followed investigators about 400 yards into the woods, where they came upon the little girl.
“My mind went blank and (I) just sat there, and tried to aid as much as I could,” Mehalko told WECT. “No one prepares for a scene like that, but the little girl was perfectly calm, thirsty. We had bottles of water, but there was not a tear in her eye. (I) just pretty much I thought she was in shock.”
The men watched investigators load the girl into a waiting ambulance and shook their hands before continuing on their way, the news station reported.
It was not immediately clear how the multiple law enforcement agencies came to suspect Edwards in the abduction, but WECT reported that they’d had him under surveillance overnight Wednesday. He was taken into custody Thursday morning.
Edwards is listed on the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry. He was convicted in 1996 of first-degree sex offense and indecent liberties with a minor.
Edwards was 24 at the time of the 1994 offense; his victim, was 6 years old.
The registry shows that he served about 16 years of a 20-year sentence. He was released in 2012.
Note: The victim’s name, which was widely reported in the media while she was missing, has been removed from this story due to the sexual nature of one of the charges against Edwards.