Raeford, N.C. — Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin on Friday blamed a lack of communication by social workers for an Amber Alert being issued Thursday night for a Raeford boy who was later found at his mother's home.
The North Carolina Center for Missing Persons issued the alert for 12-year-old Pacen Ryan Joyce shortly after 7 p.m., claiming he had been abducted by his mother, Karen Gardner Joyce.
When a WRAL News crew knocked on Joyce's front door at about 10:30 p.m., she answered and said she was stunned to learn authorities were looking for her and her son.
"I can't abduct my own child," she said, noting that no deputies had gone to the house to check on her whereabouts.
Peterkin disputed that on Friday. "First of all, we want people to know we checked the home. We did go," he said.
Hoke County deputies checked the house at 175 Secretariat Court in Raeford at about 6 p.m., he said, and found only a dog at home. No car was there.
"Normally, when we get an Amber Alert, to be honest with you, they don't go back home. That was very unusual," he said, explaining why deputies weren't monitoring the house.
Joyce told WRAL News that she had picked up her son from school and took him to the doctor before returning home around 5:30 p.m.
The Hoke County Department of Social Services reported Pacen missing at about 4 p.m. DSS had deemed Joyce a danger to the child a few days earlier after she underwent a mental evaluation, Peterkin said.
But East Hoke Middle School Principal Erica Fortenberry said the school didn't get any warning not to let the boy leave with her.
"My question to DSS (was), at what point should there have been custody assumed so that the school would know that the child was in danger," Peterkin said. "Why wasn't the school notified that the child was going to be in danger with the mother?"
DSS Director Della Sweat said her staff didn't do anything wrong.
"We have carefully reviewed this matter and determined that the Department of Social Services' handling of this matter complied with applicable laws, rules and regulations, as well as internal policy and protocols," Sweat said in a statement.
Joyce has had legal custody of Pacen, although he has been living with a neighbor, the sheriff said. DSS officially took custody of him Thursday night, and he was with Child Protective Services on Friday.
Peterkin said Joyce won't face criminal charges because of the Amber Alert.
"She had not committed a crime that we know of because nothing was done to say that she was wrong," he said.