CHIPLEY, Fla. - A baby missing for five days was found alive in a box under her baby sitter's bed, and authorities said Thursday they plan to charge the sitter, her husband and the child's mother.
Investigators who searched Susan Elizabeth Baker's home near this rural Panhandle town found 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick tucked under a bed surrounded by items meant to hide her, Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock said. The baby, who was taken to a hospital but appeared healthy, was placed in protective custody.
"It was very emotional for us, because once we got her to the hospital, we called our wives and every one of us was crying," Haddock said. "Grown men crying. It's just such a relief. We've had missing children cases in the past, but nothing like this."
Haddock said deputies plan to charge Baker, husband James Arthur Baker, and the child's mother, Chrystina Lynn Mercer.
He would not detail Mercer's role in the disappearance but said authorities do not believe the baby's father, James Russell Dedrick Jr., was involved. Dedrick and Susan Baker are related.
The baby had been missing since Saturday morning. Her parents said they last saw her when they went to bed around 3 a.m. and investigators believe she vanished sometime between then and 8 a.m. Her parents did not report her missing until after 11 a.m., but authorities have not explained the discrepancy.
About 100 law enforcement agents and others spent days scouring dense vines and marshes around the baby's home in a remote, makeshift community of dirt roads, tin-roof shacks and old mobile homes.
On Wednesday, investigators contacted the Bakers and asked to search their home, about 12 miles from where Shannon was last seen. They agreed and authorities found the baby there Wednesday night.
"Statistically speaking this should not have ever happened, that we found this child alive, especially after so many days," said Haddock, who cradled Shannon in his arms as he spoke to reporters early Thursday. "Time was against us."
According to court documents, child welfare officials began looking into allegations Shannon was being abused less than two weeks after she was born.
In August, Susan Baker wrote a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist's office, pleading for help for the baby. She claimed Dedrick shook Shannon and that he, Mercer and others smoked cigarettes and drugs in front of her. Baker also claimed Dedrick was not the child's father and said he claimed paternity to get welfare benefits.
Investigators frequently went to the infant's home from August to late September and reported that both parents used marijuana and kept a messy home. But they said Shannon seemed to be cared for and in September, a physician determined that she was healthy and expressed "no concerns regarding the baby."
Susan Baker was involved in another missing child case in South Carolina more than two decades ago. She told authorities her stepson, 3-year-old Paul Leonard Baker, disappeared from the family's Beaufort, S.C., home on March 5, 1987, while she was napping.
A massive manhunt in the swampy area around the home turned up nothing, and she and her husband, James Baker, were extradited to South Carolina in 2000 to be charged in the child's disappearance. They were never indicted and the child was never found.
Susan Baker did serve prison time after authorities investigating her stepson's disappearance discovered a 6-year-old girl in the Baker home had been badly beaten. Susan Baker was sentenced to 10 years in prison but the sentence was suspended after 80 days. Authorities could not say how she was related to the girl.