Federal and local authorities in North Carolina are still searching for a 3-year-old girl after her mother said she disappeared from her bed in the middle of the night.
Mariah Kay Woods was reported missing Monday when her mother told authorities she had not seen her daughter since she put her to bed Sunday night in their home in Jacksonville, according to ABC affiliate WCTI. The child’s disappearance has prompted a widespread search, with law enforcement, the military and members of the community looking for the child.
The Onslow County Sheriff’s Office released surveillance photos early Wednesday showing a woman with a child at a Walmart in Morehead City on Monday morning and asking the public to help determine whether the child may be Mariah. WCTI later reported that a woman in Newport said the photos show her and her own daughter — not the missing girl.
The woman, Jetta Long, told the news station Wednesday morning that she is frustrated that the surveillance photos “may have gotten the hopes of the family up.”
The FBI said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that “priority No. 1 is to find Mariah.”
“Our focus right now is to find her, to bring her back and then to find out what happened,” Sheriff Hans Miller said, adding that authorities “will not rule out any situation that may have occurred.”
Details surrounding the case are murky.
Sheriff’s office officials said in an earlier statement that Mariah’s mother, identified in local news reports as Kristy Woods, reported her daughter missing about 6 a.m. Monday.
The FBI said it brought in a Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team to assist local law enforcement who were searching on the ground and by helicopter. An Amber Alert has been issued for the preschooler, who was described by the authorities as 2-foot-9 and weighing 30 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.
“Please, bring her back,” her mother said during an emotional news conference, according to WSOC-TV. “I would do anything that I can — whatever you want. Just bring her home, please, safe and sound. She’s my baby. She’s my everything.”
Mariah’s grandmother Anne Edwards said that the preschooler wears braces on her legs, suggesting that she would probably not make it far on her own. Edwards also said she does not believe Mariah would have gone with someone she did not know. “She’s a sweet child, but she’s shy with strangers. So, she wouldn’t just go with a stranger,” the grandmother said, according to the news station.
Woods described her daughter as “goofy,” “outgoing” and “talkative.” She told reporters, “Just to be able to touch her and hold her and not let her go again, I’d give anything.” she told reporters.
But Alex Woods, Mariah’s biological father, told WCTI that he has suspicions about the story. “Someone just walked right up in there, grabbed the 3-year-old out of the bed, and she didn’t cry, she didn’t scream?” he said. “Nobody heard anything? Four people in the house, two adults and two kids, someone just comes up and snatches the baby and walks out?”
Miller, with the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, said authorities interviewed the child’s mother and her live-in boyfriend but would not comment further during the news conference about the investigation. “We don’t know what happened,” Miller said, according to WCTI. “It’s entirely premature to try to determine what happened.”