LaFAYETTE, Ga. - Police soon determined there was "no credible threat" to the community after a 9-year-old girl told authorities she was kidnapped Sunday afternoon while taking out the garbage.
The girl was found 20 minutes after she went missing. Friends of the girl's family heard her screaming and found her inside an industrial water meter box 250 feet from the garbage can area of the Town Creek Apartments on Cooper Street, authorities said.
Police are not looking for any suspects due to a lack of physical evidence and testimony, LaFayette Police Chief Bengie Clift said Monday.
Monday afternoon, the girl and two other children were removed from her grandparents' custody by state officials, the police chief said.
The children were placed in what the chief described as a safer environment.
For about 24 hours, residents speculated about the incident. Reports on social media were embellished. One report stated helicopters were searching for the girl after midnight even though she was found by neighbors, Clift said.
"I would rather it be blown out of proportion than not reported," he said.
The girl was unharmed, and there were no signs that she was sexually assaulted, Clift said.
The box the girl was found in is made of brick and has a heavy metal lid. It is 3 feet deep into the ground, 3 feet wide and 4 feet long, the chief said. The lid was too heavy for the girl to lift.
Law enforcement officials said they initially were looking for a suspect based on very few details they received second- and third-hand. The girl was interviewed at a Fort Oglethorpe children advocacy center Monday morning by someone who is trained to interview children. The girl had a physical exam Sunday afternoon.
"The problem with children is that they are easily influenced," explained Clift, describing the delicate interview process. "We did not want to contaminate the interview."
The interview went poorly, Clift said, noting that he could not disclose what the girl told authorities.
The girl's grandfather was angry with media who showed up at the apartment complex to learn details about the alleged kidnapping. A manager for the apartment complex said the grandfather knew the man who reportedly placed her in the box.
Contact staff writer Beth Burger at email@example.com or 423-757-6406.