Local News

Mother charged in abduction of 3-year-old girl

Posted November 14, 2008 5:30 a.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2008 7:05 p.m. EST

— Authorities have charged a Sampson County woman with abducting her 3-year-old daughter from her great-grandparents' care early Friday.

The girl, Chesney Anne Gaskin, was the subject of an Amber Alert but was found safe in Aiken, S.C., in the early afternoon.

Authorities say that Danielle Star Simpson, 24, was visiting her daughter and staying at the Clinton home of Chesney's great-grandparents, who have full custody of the girl. Simpson took off with Chesney sometime in the middle of the night.

"She was taking the girl to the girl's father in Alabama. ... And he had encouraged her to turn herself into a police department, any police department," Capt. Eric Pope, with the Sampson County Sheriff's Office, said.

A deputy who called Simpson's cell phone shortly after the abduction said she was very angry and not in a right state of mind, officials said. Simpson had a knife in her possession, authorities said.

Chesney's great-grandparents said that Simpson is bipolar and was off her medication.

"I almost had a heart attack. I was scared for that child," neighbor Jane Bradshaw said. "She (the mother) is prone to just leaving her. ... Every day, all the time, mentally, I'm praying the baby will be all right and get back to her grandmama and grandaddy."

Law enforcement caught the the signal of Simpson's cell phone's signal in the early afternoon when it pinged off a tower in Aiken, about an hour south of Columbia, S.C., and more than 250 miles from Faison.

"We had tracked her to the area of the South Carolina-Georgia line, and we knew she was somewhere in the area," Pope said.

Simpson's mother, who was also in the car, then called police and handed the phone to her daughter. Sampson County sheriff's deputies talked to Simpson and convinced her to tell them where she was.

"She eventually let the detectives know she was at a McDonald's in Aiken, S.C. There are several McDonald's in Aiken, S.C.," Pope said. "So with the assistance of the Aiken Police Department, they blanketed the various locations, and they identified the suspect and the child."

Chesney was unharmed and will be reunited with her great-grandparents, Aiken police said.

Simpson was being held by Aiken police and will be transferred back to the Sampson County Sheriff's Office.

Authorities said she could face federal charges because she took Chesney across state lines. Sampson deputies said they will decide what additional charges to pursue after they interview Simpson.

Simpson, who also goes by Danielle Reynolds, went to court on felony financial-card fraud charge in April, according to court records. She was also charged with second-degree trespassing in 2006 and felony forgery of an instrument in 2005, but those charges were dismissed.

Neighbors of Chesney's great-grandparents said they were relieved to hear the girl will be coming home safely.

"They have raised her as their own, and they have taken good care of her," Bradshaw said. "They love that child as if it was their own."

"The potential is always there for things to turn out worse, and we can only hope for the best," Pope said. "And in this situation, things did work for the best. And the family can be thankful for that, and we are thankful for that as well."