Local News

Missing Hoke County infant back home

Posted May 29, 2009 11:06 a.m. EDT
Updated May 29, 2009 4:25 p.m. EDT

— A 9-month-old infant whose babysitter took her out of state without permission last Saturday was home safe and unharmed Friday morning, according to the Hoke County Sheriff's Office.

Renesha Shante Griner, 17, took 9-month-old Saniya Jaynelle Purcell last Saturday, and the two were found in Opp, Ala., Thursday evening, Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said.

"I started running when I saw her. I just wanted to hold her," Saniya's great-grandmother Donna Clark said.

Saniya slept through the 6-hour ride home and woke up surprised at her family's celebration, relatives said.

"I ran over and grabbed her and started hugging and kissing her, and she was looking at me like, 'OK, grandma, what's going on?'" Clark said.

Hoke County investigators said that Griner had been lying to her 20-year-old ex-boyfriend for the past year, telling him she was pregnant and had had his baby. After babysitting Saniya once, she conceived of the idea to pass the baby off as her own, investigators said.

"I guess she was thinking about what she wanted. She didn't think about how it would affect everybody else," Saniya's grandmother Shelby Day said.

Investigators said that Griner had no intentions of returning the baby and gave Saniya a new name. The family of her ex-boyfriend fell in love with the baby, although some suspicions lingered, Saniya's family said.

"They were asking about when the baby was born, where she was born and all this information and said the girl kept giving them the runaround," Clark said.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and law officers in Georgia and Alabama were searching for Saniya. An Amber Alert was not issued in the case because Purcell was not believed to be in danger, investigators said.

Investigators in Opp got a tip that Griner was trying “to orchestrate something with her ex-boyfriend" and went to the man's house. Griner was at the ex-boyfriend’s house when police stopped by, and they found Saniya later with the man's mother, Peterkin said.

"When he found out that she wasn't (his daughter), they said he just broke down and started crying," Clark said.

"I know what he's feeling now, and I'm sad for him," Day said. "But I'm glad to have our baby back."

The ex-boyfriend's family sent Saniya back with things they bought for her – a quilt, clothes, a stuffed lion.

The Opp Police Department charged Griner as a fugitive from justice in Alabama. She waived her right to extradition at a hearing Friday afternoon and will be held without bond until Hoke County sheriff's deputies take custody of her.

Peterkin said he planned to charge Griner with first-degree kidnapping. Her first court appearance was set for Monday morning.

Saniya's relatives had different emotions about the teenager they trusted to watch the girl.

"I don't think I can forgive her," said Saniya's mother, Victoria Purcell.

"I forgive her," Clark said. "Right now I'm praying for her, that she would get the help they need."

They agreed on babysitting plans for the future.

"I don't think we're going to have any of that anytime soon. I'll do it," Day said.