Search for missing 9-year-old girl ends when gun carrying ‘heroes’ stumble upon kidnapper

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In a kidnapping that quickly gained national attention, 9-year-old Carlie Marie Trent was found safe on Thursday in rural Hawkins County, Tennessee, but it wasn’t authorities who found her.

The girl had been signed out of school on May 4 by her uncle, 57-year-old Gary Simpson, who then disappeared with her, leading to a nationwide manhunt and an appearance on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s 10 most wanted list.

That appearance didn’t last long, however, as TBI investigators enlisted the public’s help in the case. After all, authorities couldn’t possibly search every campground, park, and rural area in East Tennessee.

In asking all campground owners and visitors to keep an eye out for anything suspicious several days ago, TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine said, “We need the public to remain vigilant.”

Hawkins County residents Roger Carpenter, a Baptist minister, and Donnie Lawson decided to do just that as they legally armed themselves and proceeded to search a remote wooded area of their property accessible only by all-terrain vehicles. Their efforts were rewarded as they found Simpson and the child on the side of a trail. Lawson called police while Carpenter held Simpson at gunpoint.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn told reporters Thursday evening, “Carlie is safe tonight because of an entire community pulling together with law enforcement to bring her home. This is a case of two heroes who went on their property to see if, by chance, if they were there, and they were.”

According to Gwyn, “I think this is a clear message to the public that we need your help on these kind of cases.”

As this case and countless others prove, smart police officers know they can’t be everywhere all the time. This day, both Carlie Trent’s family and TBI authorities were thankful these responsible, law-abiding gun owners chose to go the extra mile and be “heroes” in the life of one nine-year-old girl who needed them that day.

Simpson is in custody and will be charged with especially aggravated kidnapping.

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