The story appears to have a happy ending, but investigators don’t believe it’s over.
Charlee Campbell, 2, went missing last Thursday in Lebanon Junction, prompting dozens of departments and hundreds of volunteers to search for the little girl.
For nearly 36 hours, the Bullitt County Sheriff’s Officer and Southeast Bullitt Fire Department led the way through hills and heat in hopes of finding her alive.
Shortly after 6 p.m on Friday, a neighbor said he spotted her on his porch, only 600 yards from her home in a place that had been searched by police and dogs over and over again.
The little girl appeared dehydrated, covered in ticks and missing her diaper and pajama bottoms, but she was alive.
“The good news is we found her and she’s safe, and taken care and being fed, that’s the good news and that trumps everything for me,” said Bullitt County Sheriff Donnie Tinnell, but his gut senses there’s more to this story.
“I just don’t believe she could’ve been in those woods 36 hours and survived it. There’s copper heads, rattlesnakes, ticks, coyotes, it’s a dangerous place for a little baby,” he explained.
WHAS 11 News talked to Charlee’s grandfather, Ron Campbell, who has custody of her.
Officials said that Charlee disappeared after Campbell had already left for work. Her grandmother woke up to find the door open and Charlee and her dog, Penny, missing.
Campbell said it’s simple: the two wandered off, got lost in the woods and found their way back home.
“Wherever one goes the other one goes and that’s good and bad, as you can tell,” Campbell explained.
But Sheriff Tinnell thinks there’s more to it, maybe a fight for custody and a staged disappearance.
“I think somebody felt the heat, I personally believe that she was with somebody in the home and they got nervous about it because it got bigger than they thought it would, and I think the child was dropped off on the top of the hill. They turned the dog loose on the middle of that hill, the dog goes straight home and I think they took that child up near the residence, pushed her out in the yard, this is just a theory of mine, and she went to the back deck of that house and the Brown family took her in.”
“All the speculations, I mean if you can find something, the drama should stop and go search and find it, but they’re not going to find it, she was on that hill,” Lisa Chesher, Charlee’s great-grandmother said. She denies any custody battle or scheme.
She told WHAS11 News that her daughter, Beth Campbell may have been using drugs, but no one in the family would never intentionally hurt the little girl.
“She would never put herself above this baby and if something happened accidentally, whatever, she wouldn’t want to live so she sure wouldn’t hide it,” Chesher said, while explaining that B.Campbell and Charlee’s mom both agreed to take a polygraph, though it was never scheduled
Beth Campbell was served with a criminal summons on Tuesday, according to Chesher. Sheriff Tinnell says she charged with endangering a minor for the neglect, though there’s no indication right now of any other criminal behavior.
“If it was a simple case, that child opened the door and walked out of there, so be it, but that doesn’t change the fact that there was neglect involved,” Sheriff Tinnell explained.
“I think she followed that dog - she just woke up, she was full of energy, and she went up that hill, I think she got lost coming back down,” Chesher said.
Charlee was released from the hospital and is currently in the care of Child Protective Services.
There is a custody hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning and family hopes to take her home.
Sheriff Tinnell told WHAS11 News that Charlee is shy and quiet, so asking her what happened has not been simple.
They are trying to bring in a speech therapist to help get information from her. They are also scheduling a forensics exam.