ROGERSVILLE (WATE) – Carlie Trent returned home from the hospital Friday. She was found safe Thursday afternoon after an eight-day Amber Alert and her uncle by marriage Gary Simpson has been taken into custody.
District Attorney Dan Armstrong said Carlie Trent is still at the hospital. Her uncle, Gary Simpson, is on suicide watch and in solitary confinement at Hawkins County Jail.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says citizens were checking property in the Clinch Valley area, as the TBI had asked people to do, when they found Carlie and her uncle on a trail off Gravely Valley Road only accessible by a four-wheeler.
Roger Carpenter told WATE 6 On Your Side he, Stuart Franklin, Larry “Hambone” Hamblen and Donnie Lawson had been searching for Carlie for the past three days.
Franklin, while riding an ATV, found Carlie carrying a teddy bear. Carpenter said the property belongs to Lawson’s brother. TBI said one of them held Simpson at gunpoint while the other rescued Carlie and called 911. Carpenter said none of the men involved were ministers, despite what TBI said during their media conference.
“My dad called me and said someone shouted, ‘We got the girl’ and the good Lord above me told me it was my two buddies,” Carpenter said.
Those buddies had been out since daylight, hunting for Gary Simpson.
“A lot of hitting the bushes, digging, praying, a lot of heartache, a lot of disappointment in this but thank God it turned out good,” said Carpenter.
They had checked the area before, but didn’t find any tracks.
“I have two daughters and when I’ve seen in the past, in the past I’ve seen children abducted and I’ve wanted to help and I felt like I wanted to try and help this time,” said Franklin.
“This is a case of two heroes who went on their property to see if, by chance, if they were there, and they were. I think this is a clear message to the public that we need your help on these kind of cases,” said TBI director Mark Gwyn at a news conference Thursday evening.
Simpson has been arrested and charged with especially aggravated kidnapping. He had been placed on the TBI’s most wanted list earlier on Thursday. Gwyn said more charges could be filed if warranted. The Hawkins County sheriff says his first court appearance will be Monday.
Carlie was sent to a hospital in Johnson City to be checked out as a precaution. She returned home Friday and was seen outside her father’s home playing with her sister and cousins.
Gwyn said she seemed to be okay and in good spirits. Gwyn said he can’t put a price on Carlie’s life, but the men who found her deserve the $41,000 reward that has been offered.
Carlie’s family searching for answers
Carlie’s aunt, Gary Simpson’s wife, Linda Simpson told WATE 6 On Your Side she wasn’t surprised they were found so close to home. Simpson said she has not had contact with her husband and she is angry with him, but her main thought is happiness that Carlie was found.
The girl’s father James Trent is looking for answers about why his brother-in-law would kidnap his 9-year-old daughter.
“I trusted him with the kids and looking back, there was no way to see something like this coming,” he said.
All he knows now is Carlie is home safe after more than a week missing.
“She’s really happy to be back home. It took her a minute to get wound up, but she’s like always now.”
He says Carlie is the same girl she’s always been, playing tag with her little sister and cousins, but he can’t help but wonder what happened in the eight days she was gone.
“I haven’t asked her about anything about it, so I don’t know what she was told or anything else,” he said.
Trent calls the experience a nightmare, but he couldn’t be more thankful for the outpouring of love and support from the community.
“It’s been terrible. It lasted a whole lot longer than I thought it would, but thanks to everyone for getting out there and searching. I’ll never have the chance to thank everyone, but I’ll try to get my thanks out to everybody, especially those men who saved her. My goodness, I’ll be paying a personal visit to them,” Trent said.
Carlie Trent’s kidnapping led to massive search effort
The 9-year-old was removed from school Wednesday by her uncle by marriage, Gary Simpson, 57, under false pretenses, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). Police say Gary Simpson told school officials Trent’s father was in a car accident. They said Gary Simpson has no custodial rights to Carlie Trent. They had last been seen in a white 2002 Dodge Conversion van with license plate 173-GPS.
A reward of at least $41,000 was offered by several organizations and individuals for information leading to Carlie’s safe return. More than 1,700 tips were called in from 19 states. An Amber Alert was even briefly issued in Missouri after possible sightings there, but the Trent and Simpson were found only about 20 miles away from where they were last seen.
DeVine said Wednesday morning he has heard some disturbing rumors on social media that if Simpson was trying to protect Carlie Trent. He said he has seen tweets that asked “If Simpson didn’t harm Carlie when he had custody, why would he do it now,” or that he was trying to “protect her” from something.
This video, released by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, shows Carlie Trent playing with her dad’s cell phone. TBI said they hoped it will help others spot the 9-year-old.
“If we have not been abundantly clear about this since the get-go, let me take the opportunity to say this as clearly as I possibly can. This was not an innocent camping trip, this was a crime,” said DeVine. “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. That is why we issued an Amber Alert.”
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DeVine said that is the reason Amber Alerts are issued very judiciously. He said they are reserved for the most serious of cases and this was one of them.
TBI released photos Tuesday of items purchased by Gary Simpson at a Walmart in Rogersville before picking-up Carlie Trent from school. They included a pink and purple zebra print blanket, a green shirt and black pants Gary Simpson purchased for himself, khaki pants and girl’s underwear purchase for Carlie Tent, pink and green nail polish, pink and purple lipstick, a pink child’s camp chair, a child’s night gown with purple stars and a black and pink bikini.
TBI also released higher quality video of Carlie Trent and Gary Simspon in the Save-A-Lot in Rogersville, their last known sighting.
“The reason we released that video from the Save-A-Lot is you can tell a lot by the way someone walks, so maybe they’re not in their vehicle anymore, maybe they are walking down the side of the road,” said DeVine. “We’re hoping that someone recognizes their gait and say I’ve seen someone walk that way. You can tell a lot by the way someone moves and by the way someone walks and we’re hoping that will be an additional piece of information that will help the public recognize them.”
U.S. Marshals and TBI set up command posts in Rogersville. Tennessee Highway Patrol also did air searches on an as needed basis, but DeVine described using air searches as looking for “a needle in a haystack.”