The suspect arrested in the kidnapping of a 4-year-old Lowcountry girl is being held in a Mississippi detention center on Thursday, according to The Meridian Star newspaper.
Thomas Lawton Evans, 37, of Charleston County, was identified as the suspect by Solicitor Scarlett Wilson at a Wednesday night news conference in South Carolina. He faces kidnapping charges, and other charges could be added, Wilson said.
The girl, Heidi Renae Todd, had been reported missing Tuesday after her mother was found “brutally beaten” in her Johns Island home.
Thursday afternoon, Todd’s family sent a statement to the Charleston Police Department thanking the community for their support and all the first responders who helped bring her home.
“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," the statement said.
Evans has a criminal record including drug and robbery charges that dates back to 1999, according to Charleston County court records.
He’s pleaded guilty twice to robbery charges, in 2003 and in 2009.
In 2003, he was sentenced to 127 days in prison plus probation for strong armed robbery, according to online court records. In August, 2009, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for armed robbery, second-degree robbery and drug possession charges.
Evans had 14 disciplinary actions while in prison, including threatening prison employees and taking a hostage on Dec. 18, according to South Carolina Department of Corrections records. Other offenses included drug possession/usage, threatening to commit harm on an employee, property damage/ destruction, and possessing a weapon..
He had been released Feb. 1 on “community supervision” and was supposed to be in Spartanburg County as a part of his probation terms, according to Evans’ inmate record. According to SCDOC’s website, the “community supervision program” is for certain offenders who have served 85 percent of their sentence.
“As the law allows and is standard practice, he was processed and released on the first of the month, February 2018, that his sentence was set to expire,” Jeffrey Taillon, SCDOC communications director said in an email to the Island Packet.
Evans’ relationship to the Todd family, if there is one, was not clear.
How Heidi Todd was found
Riverside, Alabama, Police Chief Rick Oliver said railroad workers reported there was a man sleeping in a blue Chevrolet Impala with Illinois license plates in a wooded area off Highway 78.
“There was no reason for him to be that far into the wooded area,” Oliver said during a news conference late Wednesday.
Oliver’s suspicions were raised when he saw a little girl awake in the passenger seat wearing an adult-sized hoodie and adult-sized pajamas.
The police chief said he smelled alcohol and the driver was acting nervous, so he asked him to get out of the car. Evans told Oliver his name and that he was coming from South Carolina, where he had been recently released from prison.
Oliver said, at that time, he did not know that the child had been reported missing or that the car had been stolen in Georgia.
When Oliver told Evans they’d have to go back to the Sheriff’s Office, Evans asked him to carry the girl.
“He handed her off and then ran toward the car, cranked it and started away,” Oliver said.
The FBI was able to track the vehicle headed toward the Mississippi state line, so law enforcement agencies there were alerted, he said.
Lauderdale County, Mississippi, Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun told The Meridian Star that Evans reached speeds close to 100 mph heading north on rural state highways before he turned down a street that had a dead end.
He jumped out of the car and tried to run away, the newspaper reported, but he was arrested and taken to the Lauderdale County Detention Center.
“He led them on a pretty long chase,” Oliver said.
Getting her home
Oliver said a city clerk was able to find information about the girl being missing online, and they contacted the Charleston Police Department.
Heidi was brought to an Alabama hospital to be evaluated and to wait for her father to arrive, he said.
“She was coloring and eating snacks and drinking chocolate milk. And we’re just tickled to death that she’s OK,” Oliver said. “She seemed to be fine, but we still wanted to get her checked out.”
Oliver said he felt thankful that he was able to help.
“This is a blessing,” he said.
“Most of the time when the child is missing for this length of time, it doesn’t end like this,” he said. “It’s another situation where the good Lord put us in the right place at the right time for this child.”