After more than a week in the hands of her abductor, 9-year-old Carlie Trent has been rescued by two search volunteers in a remote area on Clinch Mountain in Hawkins County.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation cancelled the AMBER Alert for Carlie after she was found safe and her uncle Gary Simpson was captured on Thursday, May 12, 2016 in a rural area not far from her hometown of Rogersville, Tenn.
Simpson, Carlie’s uncle by marriage, pulled her out of school under false pretenses on May 4 and after a stop at a local store, disappeared with the girl. An AMBER Alert was issued and the TBI circulated photos and videos of Carlie, Simpson and his white van, along with photos of items Simpson had purchased at a Walmart.
“This was not an innocent camping trip,” Josh DeVine, TBI public information officer, said. “This was a crime. We realize Gary Simpson is Carlie Trent’s uncle by marriage. But, we have specific, we have credible information that Carlie Trent is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.”
The TBI followed up on more than 1,850 leads, and along with other state and local law enforcement agencies, searched Hawkins County by car, boat, helicopter and on foot. On the ninth day, the agency still had no credible leads and added Simpson to Tennessee’s Top 10 Most Wanted List.
The community rallied together since Carlie’s disappearance, putting up flyers and forming their own search parties.
The agency asked the public to check their property, barns, outbuilding and four-wheel drive trails as part of their Child Abduction Response Protocol. That is exactly what Donnie Lawson and Stewart Franklin, two local men from Hawkins County, were doing when they spotted Carlie and Simpson deep into their property near Highway 70 at Gravely Valley Road in Eidson, along trails only accessible by four-wheel drive. Franklin held Simpson at gunpoint while Lawson called 911 and rescued Carlie.
“These are two heroes that went on the property just to see if by chance they were there and they were,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn.
It was unknown if Simpson was armed.
The situation is still evolving and investigators do not know if Simpson had been camped in that spot ever since taking Carlie from school on May 4. Simpson’s white van was found nearby. The location was so remote that poor cell phone service in the area was hampering communication between law enforcement during their investigation.
“In the coming days and weeks, we will work with District Attorney Dan Armstrong to ensure that Gary Simpson is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Gwyn. “Gary Simpson is charged with Especially Aggravated Kidnapping, but officers and agents will pursue additional charges if warranted.”
Simpson is currently being held in the Hawkins County Jail without bond. Especially Aggravated Kidnapping is a class “A” felony and if convicted, he could face a sentence of 15 to 60 years in prison.
According to Margie Quin, statewide amber alert coordinator, it was too early to tell if anyone else played a part in the kidnapping, but she did say that Linda Simpson, the wife of Gary Simpson, and the family were very cooperative with the investigation.
The TBI announced Thursday morning that the reward for information leading to Carlie’s safe return had exceeded $40,000. It is unknown if her rescuers will seek any of that reward. “We’ll just have to sit down and look, they very well could be and duly deserving, absolutely,” said Gwyn when asked if Lawson and Franklin would be eligible for the reward. “You can’t put a price on Carlie’s life.”