FOUND SAFE: Heidi Todd family releases statement; affidavit reveals more details

VIDEO: Heidi Todd family releases statement; affidavit reveals more details
Published: Feb. 14, 2018 at 2:26 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2018 at 8:22 PM EST
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Missing 4-year-old Heidi Renae Todd. (Source: Charleston Police Department)
Missing 4-year-old Heidi Renae Todd. (Source: Charleston Police Department)
Police Chief Rick Oliver who found Heidi Todd in Riverside, Alabama.
Police Chief Rick Oliver who found Heidi Todd in Riverside, Alabama.
Police cruisers line the Johns Island subdivision where 4-year-old Heidi Todd was reported...
Police cruisers line the Johns Island subdivision where 4-year-old Heidi Todd was reported missing (Source: Live 5 News)
Authorities searching for missing 4-year-old Heidi Renae Todd. (Source: Eric Sederstrom)
Authorities searching for missing 4-year-old Heidi Renae Todd. (Source: Eric Sederstrom)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The family of a 4-year-old Johns Island child has released a statement thanking everyone for their support after their daughter was found safe and sound in Alabama following her abduction on Tuesday.

Heidi Todd's family released the following statement Thursday afternoon.

"Thank you to everyone for their support through this difficult time. Words cannot express the range of emotions and suffering that my family has endured these past few days. I cannot thank enough all the first responders, and especially the individual in Alabama who personally rescued Heidi and helped bring her back to us. In the coming days, we will be counting on your continued prayers and support and ask that you give us the privacy and room to reunite and heal as a family." 

Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis notified the media of the reunion of Heidi Todd and her family at 12:50 p.m. Thursday.

It is not clear where the reunion took place.

"We are going to respect the family's wish for privacy and not release that information," Francis said.

Authorities have arrested 37-year-old Lawton Thomas Evans who is from the area and was captured in Mississippi on Wednesday following a chase that started in Alabama. Evans also goes by the alias Thomas Lawton Evans.

He will face state charges of kidnapping and federal charges from the FBI and additional charges will be forthcoming.

Evans is currently in the custody of the FBI.

Officials with the FBI stated Evans is not related to Heidi Todd and does not have any legal custody to her.

Authorities on Thursday released an affidavit that detailed the events on Johns Island that led to Heidi Todd's abduction at a home on Sweetleaf Lane in the Whitney Lake Subdivision which revealed that the mother was attacked by a man with a knife, brutally attacked and tied up.

Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation say the incident started on Tuesday when Heidi's mother dropped off two of her children at school and returned to her home.

The mother said when she returned to the house around 8 or 8:30 a.m. she had three of her children with her.

As she was entering her home, she was attacked from behind by a man who had a knife, court records state.

"The attacker pushed her in the home and tackled her to the ground," authorities said.

The attacker then assaulted the mother causing "facial fractures and brain bleeding" among other significant injuries, court documents stated.

According to the FBI, it was during this time that she told Heidi to run and hide. The mother said she was then continually assaulted by the man.

Court records state that later in the day police were notified when no one picked up the mother's two children that she had dropped off at school that morning.

At 5:50 p.m., officers with the Charleston Police department responded to the mother's home to conduct a welfare check.

When officers approached the home they saw evidence consistent with a physical assault such as blood.

Officers reported meeting the mother who had "significant facial trauma and markings as if she had been tied up." According to investigators, they found items that indicated that the mother had also been tied up.

The mother's two other children were located, but Heidi Todd was nowhere to be found.

The court records state the mother was admitted to the hospital due to her injuries "which have necessitated extensive treatment."

On Wednesday, investigators learned that an electronic device belonging to the mother was used at a gas station in Greensboro, Ga.

Video surveillance from the gas station showed a man with a blue t-shirt attempting to use the mother's device. Investigators indicated that a car belonging to the man could not be identified due to the angle of the video camera.

Todd's recovery was the result of a police chief who investigated a report of a suspicious car in Alabama. 

Riverside Police Chief Rick Oliver says it all started on Wednesday when emergency dispatch officials received a call from railroad workers of a vehicle near some railroad tracks.

When he got there, Oliver said he saw a blue Chevy Impala with Illinois tags with a man, later identified as Evans, sleeping under the wheel and Todd wide awake in the passenger seat.

Todd was wearing an adult sized hoodie and pajamas which made Oliver more suspicious. At this point, Oliver asked Evans out of the car then turned the vehicle off and put the keys on the dash.

"[Evans] was very nervous," Oliver said."His demeanor was very, very nervous and I smelled some alcohol."

According to Oliver, Evans told them they were coming from South Carolina. Oliver said Evans provided him with his correct name and social security number which Oliver ran through the system.

As Oliver told Evans that they were going to travel over to his office, Oliver said Evans asked him if he could hold the child.

"I knew he was going to run, I just had that feeling," Oliver said."Once I got my hands on [Todd] then secondary was getting him into custody."

Police say when Oliver got Todd, Evans ran to his car and fled. A BOLO was then sent out to area law enforcement departments on Evans' car.

According to Oliver, Evans crossed state lines into Mississippi during a long chase which ended in his apprehension.

Oliver said he did not realize the little girl he rescued was a missing 4-year-old girl from the Lowcountry until he researched it online.

"Most of the time when the child is missing for this length of time it doesn't end like this," Oliver said."I'm just thankful to be involved."

Oliver said Todd was doing fine following the ordeal, watching cartoons and drinking chocolate milk.

"I've got grandchildren," Oliver said."I've had children. Being able to get her back home is wonderful."

An emotional Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg confirmed Wednesday night that Todd was rescued from an abductor in Riverside, Alabama, Wednesday afternoon.

"We give God the glory and our thanks that all our prayers have been answered, and in fact, Heidi Todd is safe in the hands of the FBI," Tecklenburg said, his voice breaking. "What could have been a day of great tragedy has turned out to be a day of great joy."

A crowd that had gathered for a vigil for the missing child erupted in cheers as Tecklenburg made the announcement.

He said a police chief in Alabama stopped a suspect and managed to get the girl out of the suspect's vehicle.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson identified the suspect as 37-year-old Lawton Thomas Evans.

Wilson said Evans will face state charges of kidnapping and that federal charges from the FBI and additional charges will be forthcoming.

The Charleston Police Department had released a sketch of a man in connection with a home invasion and the child's subsequent disappearance.

According to a report released Wednesday afternoon, Todd's mother was assaulted while attempting to enter her home 2900 block of Sweetleaf Lane in the Whitney Lake subdivision Tuesday. Todd was reported missing at 5:50 p.m. on Tuesday, according to an incident report.

Police received a call from a school Tuesday afternoon after the mother of a student failed to pick up the child. That call led police to the Todd home where they found the mother "brutally beaten" after an apparent home invasion.

Authorities have not yet said whether the victim knew the attacker, but Interim Charleston Police Chief Jerome Taylor described him as an "unwanted guest."

Tecklenburg said the mother is in fair condition after having surgery Wednesday afternoon. The extent of her injuries was not revealed.

Taylor said she could only provide "limited information" on the attacker, describing him as a Hispanic male, 25 to 30 years of age, skinny with a short haircut and wearing all gray clothes.

On Wednesday afternoon, authorities released a sketch of a person of interest in the case, described as a Hispanic male estimated to be between 30 and 40 years of age, between 5'10" and 6' tall with a stocky build, black hair and brown eyes. He has a flame tattoo on his left cheek and a thunderbolt tattoo on his right cheek.

The sketch was based on a  description of someone seen in the area days prior to the incident who authorities hoped might have seen something or have information in the suspect.

Authorities did not say whether they believed the person of interest and the person the victim described as her attacker might be the same man.

Todd's father is a member of the Coast Guard and was out of town on training at the time, Tecklenburg said. He immediately returned to Charleston upon learning of the situation. He is with the mother at the hospital, authorities say.

Tecklenburg said there are four other children in the family and said they are safe and sound. Two of them were in the home at the time of the invasion, Tecklenburg said.

He described Heidi as a "bright, precious young child."

"There are many things that we do not know, yet, that we are still investigating, but there's one thing we know, and that is that Heidi Todd is missing, and we need everyone to be on the lookout for this young lady," Tecklenburg said earlier on Wednesday before Todd was recovered safe.

"The facial tattoos depicted are an approximation of their actual appearance," a release from the Charleston Police Department states.

The FBI announced a $10,000 reward for information that would lead to Todd's recovery, and a private donation from someone who wished to remain anonymous added another $10,000 to the reward.

Emergency crews searched for at least nine hours in the immediate area where Todd was reported missing Tuesday night, ending the immediate initial search effort around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning before resuming the search at daylight.

Part of Wednesday morning's search was focused on the lake in front of the home. Two divers entered the water at approximately 10:19 a.m. Police also used sonar in the lake, which neighbors say is approximately eight to 12 feet deep.

Agents with the FBI, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Department of Natural Resources are also assisting Charleston Police and Fire officials as well as rescue teams.

The Coast Guard contributed a helicopter to Tuesday night's search. A Charleston County Sheriff's Office helicopter was spotted over the area Wednesday morning.

Tecklenburg said everything was being done to find out what happened to the child.

A spokesperson for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said Wednesday morning an Amber Alert has not been issued because they do not have enough information on the adult that could be with her. But emergency officials said alerts sent out to residents about Todd's disappearance.

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