CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Wednesday marks one year since investigators say a man attacked a Johns Island woman in her home and abducted her 4-year-old daughter.
The man accused of the crime, Thomas Evans, faces 30 years to life in prison after pleading guilty in federal court back in September on charges of kidnapping, transportation of a minor to engage in sexual activity and aggravated sexual abuse.
At the hearing in which Evans entered the guilty plea, new information came to light about the case, including testimony from investigators who said Evans claimed he targeted the Johns Island family because they seemed “perfect” and one he would like to have. Evans also said his initial intent was to rob them.
Prosecutors said Evans attacked the woman on Feb. 13, 2018, as she returned home with three of her children after dropping off two of her children at school.
Investigators say Evans attacked her from behind with a knife, pushed her into the home and tackled her to the ground before physically assaulting her and causing significant injuries that included facial fractures and brain bleeding.
Later that same day, school officials called police when the woman did not return to the school to pick up her children and the school could not reach her.
Police went to the home at approximately 5:50 p.m. that same afternoon to perform a welfare check and saw evidence consistent with a physical assault. Inside, they found the victim and two of her children, but they could not locate the 4-year-old daughter.
The woman was taken to the hospital for treatment of her injuries.
Meanwhile, investigators began a massive search for the missing child. Police, Fire, Coast Guard and Rescue crews were called to the area to search and dive teams also searched a nearby pond. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division issued a statewide “BOLO” or “be on the lookout” bulletin to law enforcement. Charleston Police set up a 24-hour tip line and the FBI offered a reward for information that would lead to her recovery.
The following morning, investigators learned a credit card that belonged to the child’s mother was used at a gas station in Greensboro, Georgia.
Later that day, three Norfolk Southern employees decided to call 911 to report a suspicious vehicle they saw near the railroad tracks in Riverside, Alabama.
Police Chief Rick Oliver responded to the scene and located the car with the 4-year-old girl and her alleged kidnapper inside, the affidavit states.
Oliver said evens handed over the girl but then jumped back into the car and drove off. Evans was was handed over to authorities before Evans drove away and was later caught in Mississippi.
In addition to the federal charges for which he is awaiting sentencing, Evans also faces seven state charges of attempted murder, two counts of kidnapping, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, armed robbery, first-degree burglary and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a violent crime, according to Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis.
Two days before the kidnapping, Evans ran out of gas in St. Stephen while driving his girlfriend’s car. Berkeley County deputies say he had a suspended license but they could not arrest him because they did not actually see him driving the vehicle.
The owner of the car, 39-year-old Sharon Hayden, could not be located at her Spartanburg County home and hasn’t been seen since.
Evans also told investigators he had a fight with Hayden and stabbed her. Evans said he chased her into the woods near her Spartanburg home where he believed she died and left her there, but could not tell investigators where Hayden’s body is located, investigators say.
Both Hayden’s mother and daughter have gone public with pleas for information in her disappearance. Anyone with information on Sharon Hayden should call the FBI at 803-551-4200.
His sentencing hearing on the federal charges is scheduled for March 4 in Charleston.