On Thursday morning, authorities revealed that 6-year-old Stefanny Lopez-Castro, a Missouri native who had been reported missing on Wednesday night had been found “alive and well.” The little girl had been chained to a tree, though, and she was taken to the hospital immediately. Her accused abductor, a registered sex offender, was arrested shortly after the girl was rescued.
The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office found Stefanny Lopez-Castro chained to a tree less than two miles from her home in the Royal Palms community off Carolina Beach Road on Wednesday night. Investigators from both state and local agencies started looking for the girl as soon as her abduction had been reported. Fortunately, when the girl was found chained to a tree in the wooded area, she was not suffering from any major health concerns.
As reported by local news channel WECT 6, the police actually had to flag down a civilian for assistance when they found the little girl chained to the tree, asking him if he had any bolt cutters. The man, identified as Jason Mehalko, was able to produce a battery operated saw instead, and the authorities used it to cut Stefanny free. The witness said that when he came upon the scene, the little girl had been freed. She was laying on the ground and appeared to be very calm.
Despite the statements from officials that the 6-year-old is doing well, her friends and family say that she will have a long road to recovery ahead of her after her release from the hospital on Friday. For now, though, she is full of smiles and happiness after being reunited with her family. Visitors said she is covered with “extreme” mosquito bites, though.
The police arrested and charged 46-year-old Douglas Edwards with first-degree kidnapping and other charges. When the Inquisitr first reported about the abduction of Stefanny Lopez-Castro, they also said that Edwards had been involved with and convicted of the sexual abuse of another 6-year-old child over two decades ago. The police suspect that the circumstances of the first kidnapping might closely mirror the current case.
Though the police are not speaking about Douglas Edwards and his history, the North Carolina sex offender registry has the details of the case that earned the suspect a 20-year prison sentence in 1996. That case ended with Douglas Edwards’ conviction on May 30, 1996. He was found guilty of the first-degree sexual offense and indecent liberties with a minor. Public records indicate that Edwards had been released from his incarceration for that abduction and sexual offense sentence on May 5, 2012.
Court records indicate that his bail has been set at $9 million, and he was scheduled to have his first court appearance early Friday morning. The charges against Edwards are kidnapping and indecent liberties with a child, and the judge upheld his bail amount per the request of the prosecutors. In another WECT 6 report, the judge is said to have also outlined that the indecent liberties charge would carry a maximum sentence of 59 months in prison, but the kidnapping charge could get Edwards as much as 231 months in jail.
The investigation into the abduction is still ongoing, and on Friday at about 3 p.m. local time, detectives were seen revisiting the wooded area off River Road along with a handcuffed Edwards. He is scheduled to return to court on October 6.
The family of the North Carolina girl has asked for privacy during this difficult time, and they declined from giving any interviews. They did release a statement thanking all those who had been involved in the search and rescue of Stefanny. They have also planned a party for her once she is released from the hospital as it was only a couple of days following her birthday that the North Carolina girl had gone missing.
A GoFund me account has also been set up to help the family.
[Featured Image by New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office]