A mother who reported her infant daughter missing had secretly turned her over to her baby sitter, who hid her in a box under a bed, authorities said Thursday.
Chrystina Lynn Mercer gave 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick to Susan Elizabeth Baker early Saturday, about 10 hours before she was reported missing, Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock said Thursday.
The report led to a five-day search in and around this rural Panhandle town that ended late Wednesday when. Baker had allowed deputies and their search dogs into her home, which is about 12 miles from Mercer's. Haddock said Baker had asked Mercer on Friday if she could permanently take custody of Shannon, though he did not say why.
Over the summer, Baker wrote Gov. Charlie Crist's office pleading for help for the baby. She claimed Shannon's father shook her and that he, Mercer and others smoked cigarettes and drugs in front of her.
Haddock said the child apparently had been fed while she was with Baker and was in good condition, although no bottle was found in the box.
"She was way back under the bed," he said. "But she was not crying."
Mercer and Baker remain jailed. Arraignments were scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Mercer is charged with interference of child custody, desertion of a child and several other charges. Charges against Baker include neglect of a child with aggravated circumstances and interference of child custody.
Baker's husband, James Arthur Baker, was arrested but has been released. He is still under investigation, Haddock said. The child's father, Russell Dedrick Jr., is not believed to have been involved.
Shannon's parents told investigators they last saw her when they went to bed around 3 a.m. Saturday and investigators thought she had vanished sometime between then and 8 a.m.
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.
"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 earlier 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.
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. She and her husband, James Baker, were extradited to South Carolina in 2000 and charged with assault and battery in Paul's disappearance, according to police reports provided by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. But a grand jury never indicted them 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.