SMOAKS, SC (WCSC) - The three Colleton County children found after being missing for more than 18 hours have been placed in protective custody and will remain there until the investigation is complete, officials say.
Sheriff's Lt. Shane Roberts says investigators are convinced someone put the toddlers in the abandoned trailer where they were found.
The children were interviewed Thursday at a children's center in Beaufort, authorities say. The investigation into how and why the children disappeared and eventually came to be found in the trailer continues.
So far, no arrests have been made.
A custodial parent and the birth parent of one of the three children have been in a custody battle, according to an incident report from the sheriff's office.
Deputies responded to a report of children missing from a home on Bent Gate Lane at approximately 6:33 p.m. Wednesday.
The responding deputy noted in the incident report the custodial parents seemed "very concerned on the whereabouts of the juveniles, and were very forthcoming with any information that they were able to provide." The same deputy noted, however, the birth parents "did not appear to be very worried about the location of the juveniles and continued to be concerned about missing their ride back to Columbia."
The sheriff's office says the deputy spoke to multiple people attempting to gain information about the disappearance.
The children's grandmother said she had arrived home from work and the children came up to her yelling because they were happy to see she was home, the incident report states. She told deputies she went inside to change clothes, and while in the house, her daughter came in and asked if she knew where the children were. The grandmother told authorities she thought her daughter was just joking and did not take it seriously. She then said her brother came and asked again if she knew where they children were because they were missing.
At that point, the grandmother walked outside and started looking for the kids and said everybody on the street also began to search, the report states.
She said they called law enforcement when they realized they were unable to find the children, the report states.
The grandmother said she last saw them in the front yard playing on a small mound and said the kids knew better than to leave the yard.
Deputies said the mother of the two girls told authorities she last saw the kids playing in the front yard as well and had not seen them since. She said the kids never left the yard without anybody with them.
The boy's father said his son knows better than to leave the yard of the home and said his son would ride his bike to the end of the yard or the end of the driveway and knew he could not go any further.
A sheriff's office report states deputies looked through all abandoned houses in the area as well as in the homes who live near Bent Gate Lane.
Investigators say after searching through some of the abandoned homes, the grandmother pointed out that some of the toys that she remembers the kids playing with in the front yard were now on the front porch of a trailer home that's facing the back of their home.
Authorities say they located the children's toys on a road around the backside of the trailer.
Colleton County deputies released photos of three children as they were reunited with their custodial parents.
Colleton County Sheriff R.A. Strickland confirmed Thursday morning the children were found in the closet of an abandoned trailer and reunited with their family.
"We are proud to announce all three children have been located and they are safe and sound," Strickland said.
Strickland confirmed the children, sisters 4-year-old Mya and 2-year-old Shamyra and their cousin, 3-year-old Eugene, were located at approximately 11 a.m. Thursday in the closet of an abandoned trailer. The trailer was approximately 100 yards away from the area from which they disappeared at approximately 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
He said the children, the two sisters and cousin, were awake and alert, a little tired and thirsty and hungry. They were being checked by EMS workers, Strickland said.
"We couldn't ask for anything better to be the outcome," he said. "The community's been awesome. We've had a lot of prayers and a lot of support."
Following the reunion with family members, officials say the children were taken to Beaufort to be interviewed by professionals about what happened during the hours they were missing.
That place is a children's advocacy center called Hope Haven. Hope Haven specializes in forensic interviews with children.
"We have a lot of questions that we are trying to find answers to," Strickland said. He told reporters the events had occurred within the last 10 to 15 minutes and investigators still do not know exactly what happened or how the children wound up in the location.
Authorities were notified at approximately 6 p.m. Wednesday when custodial parents could not locate the children.
A team of up to 60 people searched in the area of the trailer and may have actually searched the trailer Wednesday night but there was apparently no sign of the children at that point.
It is not clear how or when they came to be in that trailer, he said, adding their number one priority was finding the children and reuniting them with their family.
"It's hard for you to understand; it's hard for us to understand as well," Strickland said.
Strickland told reporters investigators were not yet at a point to ask the children what happened to them.
He also denied earlier reports that the search had been suspended overnight, saying the team never backed off from the search.
Wednesday night, Colleton County deputies said the 4-year-old girl was wearing a pink dress and black boots with fur inside, and the 2-year-old girl was wearing a pink shirt with light pink shorts, and black boots with fur inside when last seen. The 3-year-old boy was wearing a green shirt with camo sleeves and orange trim, dark blue jeans and Sperry shoes with Velcro straps.
Officials said Wednesday night the children might have wandered away. But the children's guardian, Willie D. Williams, said he believed they were taken.
"I know somebody got my kids," he said. "They're not in the woods, they're missing."
Wilson said the kids came home from school, did homework and went outside to play before they disappeared.
"If I owe you anything, I'll give it to you. Just bring my kids home," he said.
The kids' mother says her children were interviewed in Beaufort and said a relative had taken a lie detector test.
Search crews included ground units, the assistance of a Charleston County aviation unit and SCDNR.
Anyone with information on the circumstances involving the children's disappearance is asked to call 843-549-7144.