DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. — A police officer in Arkansas is in stable condition after being shot during a confrontation with a man who authorities allege had kidnapped a 14-year-old girl from her Davidson County home.
The Arkansas State Police said Sunday the girl was safe and the man accused of kidnapping her appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after fleeing from authorities. Officials said 14-year-old Savannah Childress was brought back to Davidson County on Sunday and reunited with her family.
On Monday afternoon, Davidson County Sheriff Richie Simmons held a news conference where investigators shared more details about the case and how they were able to find the girl and her kidnapper.
Simmons said their investigation started on Feb. 11 when Childress was reported missing from her house in the Canaan Church Road area of Denton, about 60 miles north of Charlotte.
Her family reported the girl missing after she logged off of her virtual classroom through South Davidson Middle School, and her parents were alerted by the school system that she didn’t show up at the bus stop to get her younger sibling later that afternoon.
When the girl’s father got home around 4:20 p.m., he searched the house and found that his daughter was missing, deputies said.
According to Simmons, Childress used her Davidson County Schools-issued computer to talk to a man, later identified as 38-year-old William Ice from Mercer County, Pennsylvania.
As the investigation continued, it was discovered that Ice was talking to several girls in Alamance County. The sheriff’s office was able to speak and interview the girls and gather information about Ice.
It was later revealed that Pennsylvania State Police issued a warrant for Ice’s arrest on Feb. 9. He was accused of sexually assaulting a teen, and state police believed he was on the run.
Deputies said Ice took Childress from her home on Feb. 11, and after identifying his red Dodge Durango, they issued arrest warrants for first-degree kidnapping and soliciting a child by computer. An Amber Alert was issued as authorities searched for the girl.
Several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the United States Secret Service and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, gathered leads that indicated Ice was near a McDonald’s in Lonoke County, Arkansas, near Interstate 40.
The FBI, along with several Arkansas law enforcement agencies, recognized the Durango at the McDonald’s and approached it. Lonoke police officers saw two people in the SUV and ordered Ice to get out. He complied, but as he got out he fired a gun at one of the officers.
That officer, Officer Cody Carpenter was critically hurt. He was rushed to the hospital and was in stable condition Sunday.
On Monday, officials in Lonoke said Carpenter was “in good spirits given the circumstances” after the shooting. They expect him to make a full recovery.
Officials said a second officer, who was not hurt, fired back at Ice as he got back into the SUV and sped away.
(WATCH BELOW: Witness Michael Mitchell’s cell phone video of the shooting scene in Arkansas.)
An Arkansas state trooper who was in the area and heard on police radio communications that an officer was shot then spotted the Durango leaving the McDonald’s parking lot. Officials said the trooper chased the SUV until it crashed into a snowbank.
Authorities said the passenger in the Durango, Savannah Childress, was able to run to troopers and is safe.
Troopers then found Ice in the vehicle critically injured from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was taken to the hospital where he later died.
Authorities in Ohio said Ice tried to meet a child for sex last year. It turned out to be an undercover operation. Ice was arrested and was out on bond awaiting trial.
“The entire community all came together looking for her,” William Justus said.
Justus and D.K. are members of Reddy Foxx Nomads, a community group that organized a search for the teen in her neighborhood on Saturday.
“Once they get that far away, usually, they are never found, so just the fact she was found is a sigh of relief and a great feeling,” Justus said.
“Going through that, seeing that, I mean that’s gonna mess anybody up, but I am glad. I hope she can recover,” D.K. said.
Davidson County deputies said the teen was using her school-issued laptop to communicate with Ice, using multiple online platforms. Simmons said school laptops have firewall protection that is in place when students are in school but not when they’re learning virtually from home.
“They’re using their Chromebooks now they’re working virtual,” Simmons said. “It’s a great reason that they need to be back in school. Our kids need to be back in school. And while they’re in school, there are firewalls for this. When they’re taking these tablets home, there’s nothing. It’s whatever is on their server at their house. And that’s a big problem.”
Ten other juveniles in Alamance County were contacted by Ice on their school computers, according to Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson.
“I believe had we not found out from the FBI and Davidson County, we would have probably wound up with a kidnapping of one of our young females,” Johnson said.
Investigators said Ice targeted middle school-age children through email accounts, Skype and multiple sites that leave as little of a digital footprint as possible.
Simmons said Ice was a predator and was targeting and grooming young girls. It was still unclear what his plan was.
“We don’t know what his plan is -- we never got to speak to him,” the sheriff said. “We don’t know why Davidson County, why Alamance County was picked.”
Simmons said his investigators were on Ice’s trail but always seemed to be one step behind him.
“He was very elusive and very smart, intelligent how he did it,” Simmons said. “He was driving a vehicle -- it’s pretty easy to pick out a red Durango with an unusual roof to carry things on. And when he was caught, he had already spray-painted it black.”
Authorities said Childress was safe but had a long road to recovery ahead of her.
“She’s suffered a traumatic experience,” said Davidson County Sgt. David Blake. “After being recovered by Arkansas law enforcement, she was transported back here to Davidson County, where she went to the Dragonfly House Child Advocacy Center for a full forensic interview and medical exam. She filled in a lot of blanks for us, gave us a little better understanding of how things went. But she’s definitely traumatized and has a long road ahead of her to recover from this.”
Simmons was asked what parents should take away from this case, and said they need to be more involved in monitoring their children’s social media.
“As a parent, I mean, we really got to understand the type of apps that are on our children’s phone, and who they’re communicating with on these apps,” he said. “And I would encourage all parents to encourage their children, if you can’t text them from your cell phone, then don’t communicate with the ... so that would just be the biggest lesson, I think that we all could really look at the apps on our children’s phone.”
Cox Media Group