ATLANTA A Cleveland man was being held Tuesday on $250,000 bail after he allegedly kidnapped his five-year-old daughter from the Great Start Readiness program in Atlanta.
The suspect, Steven Williams, 38, had no permission and no parental or court ordered rights to take the child, officials said.
His arrest Monday was aided by a 17-year-old Atlanta girl, who spotted him with the youngster at a Rose City restaurant 50 miles away, said Atlanta Community Schools Superintendent Don Haskin. The Great Start program rents space on the school's campus, and has a separate entrance, parking lot and policies.
The incident began around 3:29 p.m. Monday, when the child was reported missing from pre-school, said Montmorency County Sheriff's Sgt. Chad Brown.
One team of deputies went to the school and two others spoke to the child's mother, he said. Soon, the officers determined that a woman had called the school to say the child's father would be picking the youngster up. However, the girl's mother said she did not make that call.
Although the case did not qualify for an AMBER Alert, which is usually issued when the suspect is a stranger, Brown sent a be-on-the-lookout (BOL) notice to other law enforcement agencies. The mother also went on Facebook to spread the word.
"The safe return of the child was our main concern," Brown said. "We all have that instinct that we don't want to see any harm to a child, so we step up and pay attention."
Around 6 p.m., at the New Faull Inn in Rose City, Morgan Barrett, who was on her way with her family to a downstate event, recognized the little girl and became suspicious, Haskin said. About the same time she recieved an alert on her cellphone and told her parents. Her father, Sean, went into the parking lot to look for a suspicious vehicle. Meanwhile, the child needed help with the baggy clothing she was wearing and the Barretts suggested that Williams get some safety pins at a nearby store.
They then notified Ogamaw sheriff's deputies and Williams was arrested outside the store, authorities said.
Rose City is about 50 miles south of Atlanta and 17 miles from Interstate 75.
Ogamaw deputies notified Montmorency County of the news, the mother was reunited with her daughter around 8 p.m., Brown said.
According to the Montmorency County Prosecutor's Office, Williams will be in court 1:30 p.m. Feb. 21 for a preliminary examination.
Haskin said parents need to know that their children are safe at Atlanta Community Schools, which has its own system for releasing students to parents and guardians.
"We know all of our parents, and at last month's school board meeting the board approved a year-round 24/7 lock down," he said. "We'll have the doors locked every day and buzz the people in."
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693.
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