HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. — Two men became heroes Thursday when they found a missing 9-year-old girl in a remote section of east Tennessee.
They held Carlie Marie Trent’s suspected captor at gunpoint until authorities arrived, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.
“These are two heroes who went on their property just to see if they were there,” Gwyn said. “The public is who rescued Carlie and without their assistance I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”
Carlie went missing May 4 after her uncle by marriage, Gary Simpson, removed her without permission from her school in Rogersville, the TBI said. Rogersville is in the mountains of east Tennessee and authorities thought that’s where they’d find them, perhaps camping.
The TBI asked the public to look in their barns and on their property and four-wheel trails for clues.
That’s what Stewart Franklin, Donnie Lawson, a farmer; Roger Carpenter and Larry “Hambone” Hamblen were doing at the property on Thursday, Gwyn said.
Franklin found Carlie carrying a teddy bear while riding an ATV through a rugged area of Hawkins County, which belongs to Lawson’s brother.
One of the men held a gun on Simpson while Lawson called 911. Authorities initially said Carpenter was one of the two who found the girl.
It seemed like the entire state exulted when the news broke that Carlie was found. An intensive search had been underway, with authorities earlier saying Carlie might have been in “imminent danger.”
An Amber Alert had been issued and the FBI made the disappearance the case of the week on its website. Officials said Simpson at one point had custody of the girl, but her father recently regained custody and the uncle had no custodial rights at the time she disappeared.
Carlie appeared to be safe but was taken to a hospital to be checked out, Gwyn said.
Simpson, 57, was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and may face other charges. He’s being held in the Hawkins County Jail.
Josh DeVine, TBI spokesman, said Simpson bought clothing and camping equipment before going to the school, so investigators thought they might have been staying in the woods or at a campground.
People had reported seeing Carlie as far away as Idaho but the search had always been focused on Hawkins County, Gwyn said.
“Our intelligence was telling us that, our experience was telling us that,” he said.
Message to Simpson
DeVine previously issued a plea to Simpson on behalf of authorities and Trent’s family.
“Your family is eager to hear from you, and your family is eager and anxious to have Carlie home. We would encourage you, Gary, to do the right thing and bring Carlie home,” DeVine said. “There is nothing that you’ve done that can’t be fixed.”
The U.S. Marshals have increased their reward to $5,000 for information leading to Trent’s safe recovery and Simpson’s arrest.
Trent’s pediatrician has also offered a $10,000 reward.
Authorities say anybody with information should contact the Rogersville Police Department at 423-272-7555 or TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.