CHIPLEY, Fla. -- A baby missing for five days was found alive and well under her baby sitter's bed, and Florida authorities said Thursday they plan to charge the sitter, her husband and the child's mother.
Investigators found 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick in a box tucked under a bed surrounded by items intended to hide the child at Susan Elizabeth Baker's home near Chipley, a rural Panhandle town, Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock said in an interview early Thursday. The baby was placed in protective custody.
Baker is a former Beaufort-area resident and stepmother of Paul Baker, who was 3 years old when he disappeared in 1987. His case remains unsolved.
Days after Paul’s disappearance, his 6-year-old sister, Nina, was removed from the Baker home when investigators discovered signs of abuse. Susan Baker was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. She was sentenced to 10 years but released from jail after 80 days when the sentence was suspended for time served, according to records on the Beaufort County courts Web site.
The couple later moved to Florida but were extradited back to South Carolina in 2000 in connection with Paul’s disappearance, according to reports at that time in The Beaufort Gazette.
However, a grand jury would not indict Susan Baker on a charge of criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, and in 2003, a charge of unlawful neglect of a child was dismissed, according to Daniel Brownstein, spokesman for 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone’s office.
Paul disappeared in March 1987 after Baker said she put her step-son down for a nap. Despite days of searching on foot and by land and air, Paul has not been seen since.
This week’s search for Shannon had a much quicker and happier conclusion.
“Statistically speaking this should not have ever happened, that we found this child alive, especially after so many days. Time was against us,” Haddock said.
Shannon was taken to a hospital but appeared healthy, Haddock said.“It was very emotional for us, because once we got her to the hospital, we called our wives and every one of us was crying. Grown men crying. It’s just such a relief,” he said. “We’ve had missing children cases in the past, but nothing like this.”
Haddock said deputies were working to charge Baker, her husband James Arthur Baker and the child’s mother, Chrystina Lynn Mercer. He wouldn’t provide details about the possible charges or say how they believe the mother was involved, but said more information would be released later Thursday. Authorities don’t believe the child’s father, James Russell Dedrick Jr., was involved but the case is still under investigation, Haddock said. He said Susan Baker and the father are related.
Haddock confirmed that Baker was the Susan Elizabeth Baker cited in court records from Beaufort in 1987. He also confirmed Baker wrote an e-mail to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s office in August, pleading for the governor to help Shannon Dedrick.
“And my response is, ’We saved the child, Ms. Baker,” Haddock said.Court documents released Wednesday showed that child welfare workers in Florida began looking into allegations Shannon was being abused less than two weeks after she was born.
Her parents reported her missing around 11 a.m. Saturday. They told authorities that they had not seen her since about 3 a.m.
About 100 law enforcement agents and others scoured the woods around the couple’s home, Haddock said. Investigators contacted the Bakers again on Wednesday and they allowed them into their home, Haddock said.
“They gave us consent to search the home and found the baby in a box under a bed, with stuff pushed around the box to hide the baby,” he said.
Court records released Wednesday said investigators frequently went to the infant’s home from August to late September and reported that both parents used marijuana and kept a messy home.
But investigators reported that Shannon seemed to be cared for and repeatedly noted that the risk to the baby was “intermediate.” In September, an investigator said a physician determined that the child was healthy and expressed “no concerns regarding the baby.”
A sheriff’s investigator from Beaufort County was sent to Florida to assist in the missing child case, sheriff’s spokeswoman Robin McIntosh said Wednesday.