The attorney for Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, said Friday his client would plead not guilty to kidnapping Shaniya Davis.
Fayetteville Police Department spokeswoman Theresa Chance said McNeill admitted taking the girl.
McNeill was charged with kidnapping while authorities dropped charges against another man, Clarence Coe, who was initially arrested in the case.
"We're hoping we find her alive," Chance said at a news conference. "We found Mr. McNeill, and Miss Davis was not with him."
McNeill had a first court appearance Friday. Attorney Allen Rogers said he only spoke briefly with his client, adding that he didn't know what connection McNeill may have had with Shaniya or her mother. He also didn't comment on the child's whereabouts.
"My guess is that the police are actually keeping a lot very quiet," criminal profiler Pat Brown told "Early Show Saturday Edition" substitute co-anchor Debbye Turner Bell. "I think they're doing a lot of interviewing of the mother, of the first guy that they arrested, and the one they now have some custody. They'll talk to everyone, because there's something going on here that is probably not what we all expect it to be."
Surveillance video showed McNeill carrying Shaniya into a hotel room on Tuesday morning, when she was reported missing from a mobile home park. A hotel worker called police to report seeing a child matching Shaniya's description, but by the time police got there, McNeill had left.
Investigators used police dogs, but couldn't pick up the child's scent during a search of the neighborhood.
They found a blanket that may have belonged to the girl in a garbage can outside a neighbor's home.
(Left: An image from surveillance video shows a man carrying a girl identified by police as 5-year-old Shaniya Davis in the hallway of a hotel in Sanford, N.C.)
Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, made a tearful appeal Thursday for his daughter's safe return.
"Shaniya, if you're listening to Daddy, I miss you so much, honey," he said. "I'm waiting for you. I'm not going to give up. You don't give up either, honey."
Brown told Bell, "We have the problem we usually do when a child goes missing out of a house in the middle of the night. ... That does happen on occasion, but it's pretty rare. And usually you find that, when that happens, it's something going on inside the house and people there are aware, at least some people are aware of what happened."
The case gets more complicated, she added, in agreeing with Bell's depiction of the Davis home as having "a lot of drama."
"We have people with life issues, perhaps drug issues," Brown observed. "We don't know exactly what all of them are. We know there's some custody thing going on there, too.
"And what happens in these situations is you have people who perhaps don't think about the consequences of what they do. They'll get an idea in their head and they'll say, 'Hey, we should do this,' whether it be hide the child in a custody battle - for example, the mother could be saying, for example, 'I don't want the dad to have the child, let's hide the child.' Somebody else could have nothing to do with the mother in that sense, (it) could be somebody else saying, 'Here's a good idea. Let's go do this.' And we don't know what the 'this' is at the moment, and that that's what's really particular about this case.
"The first man arrested, the boyfriend, he was in the house at the same time, so you wonder, "Why did they pick him?"
Brown says she doesn't believe Shaniya was necessarily taken away for any sexual purposes or to be killed, "but the problem is now, if everything goes wrong, people again don't think of consequences and may do something in a rash move because they're afraid of getting caught, and that's the scary part."