Twenty-two hours before William Joseph McCullen was arrested Tuesday, his breathless voice on the phone sounded panicked. He had just dialed 911.

“Yes, ma’am, my oldest daughter, I was taking a nap, I just woke up and I can’t find her anywhere.”

He said he awoke to the door of his home in Bessemer City, N.C., swung open and the 3-year-old girl he’d been watching — Jordyn Ann Dumont — mysteriously gone. He went outside and next door to the neighbors, calling her name aloud. No reply. “I can’t find her,” he kept repeating.

“She may have fallen asleep,” the dispatcher said, calmly. “I need you to go look under the bed while I send people that way, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the man.

McCullen, 25, abandoned the phone, a landline receiver with a cord, leaving behind silence for 36 seconds. Then his voice — desperate now — rushed back.

“She’s not here!” he said. “She’s not here!”

Between heaves, McCullen described the missing little girl. White female. Dirty blonde hair. Jean shorts. Minnie Mouse shirt. She is supposed to turn 4 next month, he cries. Her mother would be home soon from work.

“Baby, please come out,” his voice pleads on the call. “I don’t know if she’s just hiding or what. I don’t know, I can’t find her anywhere, she don’t do this. The door was just wide open and I can’t find her!”

The line fills with sobs, then falls silent again. The dispatcher mutters “he’s freaking,” just before the voice returns once more.

“Yes, ma’am,” the man says. “They’re here now.”

The call ends.

For nearly 19 hours, law enforcement in helicopters and hundreds of community members with flashlights searched for the missing toddler. They combed the woods near the family home in Bessemer City hoping for signs of the girl.

Amid the desperate search, McCullen told a WSOC-TV reporter it all felt “like a bad dream.”

On Tuesday morning, Gaston County Police shut down the search. Jordyn’s body had been found, reported the TV station, about 500 yards from her home. It was wrapped in a sheet.

Two hours later, McCullen was arrested in connection with the child’s death.

At a news conference later that day, Gaston County Police Chief Joseph Ramey said McCullen faces a charge of first-degree murder. The chief would not say precisely where Jordyn was found, whether her body was buried or how she died. He did, however, say that authorities think she’d been dead for 24 to 36 hours — and that her body had been moved to the woods after she was killed.

Ramey would not reveal what evidence led authorities to arrest McCullen, only that there is “information” they believe proves “he is the cause of her death.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family in this difficult time,” Ramey said.

On the day Jordyn disappeared, McCullen — her mother’s boyfriend — told police he was babysitting her and another child, 1-year-old Angel. He and Jordyn’s mother, Jaylene Dumont, had the baby last year after meeting in Nebraska, McCullen’s sister told the Gaston Gazette. Even though McCullen wasn’t Jordyn’s biological father, he considered the girl his own daughter, the newspaper reported.

“He’s just always talked about them with so much love,” the sister, Kimberly Espinoza, told the Gazette. “Every time I talked to him, it was always about his girls and what he was doing with them.”

In October, the family of four moved to McMullen’s family home in Bessemer City, a place plagued by tragedy more than once. 

A family member’s 6-month-old son died of SIDS there, Kimberly Espinoza told the Gazette, and it’s where McCullen’s father died in 2013.

“I told them, ‘You shouldn’t go back to the house because it seems like bad things happen there,’ ” Espinoza told the newspaper.

Their mom died in April, the sister said, and McCullen had once been sentenced to probation for drug paraphernalia. Although her communication with her brother had been sparse in recent years, Espinoza said she thinks he may have never recovered from all the death.

Killing 3-year-old Jordyn, though, did not seem like him.

“I really don’t think he could have done anything intentionally,” Espinoza told the Gazette. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think.”

McCullen said little in his court appearance Wednesday morning, reported WSOC-TV. The entire hearing lasted just one minute. When the district attorney asked that he be held without bond, McCullen said, “I understand.” He will appear in court again next month and has been assigned a public defender, reported the Gazette. It was unclear whether he had entered a plea, based on reports.

Jordyn’s biological father, Josh Kinnett, told Fox 46 that he was driving from his home in Illinois to North Carolina when he got the call that police had discovered his daughter’s body.

“I just want closure and [the] truth about what happened to her and who would take her from us,” Kinnett said.

He claims he is the father of Jaylene Dumont’s 1-year-old baby, Angel, and told Fox 46 he went for DNA testing to prove it Wednesday morning. He is trying to get custody of the child, he said.

He cried when he showed a picture book full of Jordyn’s baby photos and snapshots of her childhood to a WSOC-TV reporter. The last time he talked to her on the phone was two months ago, he said.

“She just said ‘Hi,’ and I said, ‘I miss you and I love you,'” Kinnet told WSOC-TV.

Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil Wednesday night for the slain girl, known in her neighborhood as happy and playful.

Cindy Ellis, the vigil organizer, spoke passionately to WCCB Charlotte about the responsibility adults have to intervene when children are in danger.

She also bought Kinnet, Jordyn’s father, a gift inscribed with his daughter’s initials.

“It’s just a candle,” she said, weeping. “It’s pink. I was told Jordyn’s favorite color was pink.”

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