Prince George's County police arrested a Brentwood woman yesterday and charged her with lying to investigators about the last time she saw a 10-year-old boy who disappeared nearly a month ago.

Gloria Pettit, 52, a neighbor of the missing George Stanley "Junior" Burdynski, was charged with hindering a police investigation, a misdemeanor.

Police said yesterday that Pettit is a longtime friend of James A. Kowalski, a Winchester, Va., man accused of molesting Pettit's 11-year-old son and another Brentwood boy, who is 13.

The sexual abuse charges against Kowalski and another man, Stephen Leak, of Hyattsville, grew out of the search for the missing boy. Neither man has been charged in Junior's disappearance.

According to police, Pettit first told investigators that she saw Junior about 7:30 p.m. May 24, the day that he disappeared. In a subsequent interview on June 4, according to police, Pettit admitted she had lied about the last time that she saw Junior.

Capt. James White, a police spokesman, would not disclose yesterday what time Pettit now says she last saw Junior or why she allegedly lied in her initial meeting with police.

But White said that the timing is critical in helping detectives retrace the hours leading up to Junior's disappearance.

"It's a very important piece of information," said White. Pettit is not a suspect in Junior's disappearance, White said. But she was interviewed for several hours yesterday after her early morning arrest at her home.

Yesterday's arrest was the latest turn in a mysterious case that has focused attention on the small town of Brentwood and spawned speculation that a ring of pedophiles may have preyed on the community's children.

Paul Thomson, the chief prosecutor in Winchester, said yesterday that telephone records show at least four calls were placed from Kowalski's home to a Brentwood listing on May 25, the day after Junior disappeared.

Although police sources in Prince George's say the calls were made to the Pettit house, Thomson declined to say whether the calls were made to Pettit.

Junior's parents, George and Barbara Burdynski, have said that Pettit introduced Kowalski to Brentwood residents and their children. They said Kowalski was a fixture at Pettit's home and frequently took Pettit's sons and their friends, including Junior, on trips to local swimming pools and to his home in Winchester.

Pettit and Kowalski "had known each other for a long time, a number of years," White said.

Hindering a police investigation is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine, police said.

White said that investigators' inability to determine exactly when Junior was last seen has stymied their efforts to find him and that the charge against Pettit was intended, in part, to send a message to other witnesses who may have lied to police.

"Someone out there knows something," White said.