COLLETON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A Colleton County judge ruled there is probable cause to keep three children who went missing last week in protective custody.
The lead investigator in the children's disappearance testified at a hearing Monday morning held to determine whether the children, ages 2, 3, and 4, would be returned to their families after spending the weekend in protective custody.
Colleton County Sheriff's Capt. Jason Chapman said it appears someone who was comfortable with the children was able to abduct them.
"At this point in time, law enforcement can't without a doubt point a finger at who took these children, or who originally abducted the children and sneaked them back in that abandoned residence," Chapman said.
He also told the judge people have been given lie detector tests, search warrants have been served and cell phone records have been searched.
He described the neighborhood as close-knit and said everyone was cooperative in trying to figure out how the children disappeared.
He said he cannot jeopardize their safety until investigators determine who took them.
When asked by a family member why the search was called off for a time, Chapman testified the search was never called off, saying no stone was left unturned in the search.
The children's whereabouts sparked a massive search last week in Smoaks before authorities found all three children locked in a closet in a nearby abandoned trailer. Their discovery prompted questions because authorities said they had searched the trailer before and found no sign of anyone inside.
Officials say the children were hungry and thirsty. They were checked by medical personnel then taken to a children's center in Beaufort where investigators could speak to them in hopes of piecing together what happened.
The judge told family members he understood it was a trying time, but ruled authorities need to go further in investigating the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, but ordered the Department of Social Services to organize supervised visits for family members.
Family members did not comment on the ruling after the hearing.
The judge scheduled another hearing for April 6.