Missing 4-year-old South Carolina girl found safe in Alabama; mother ‘brutally beaten’

SOUTH CAROLINA — A 4-year-old girl who disappeared from her South Carolina home where her mother was found badly beaten has been found safe a day later in Alabama, authorities said.

The police chief in Riverside, Alabama, found Heidi Todd inside a vehicle Wednesday afternoon and managed to get her out safely before the driver sped off, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said.

Police are now looking for the driver, Thomas Evans, 37, who has been charged with kidnapping, said prosecutor Scarlett Wilson, who expects more charges to be filed.

Officers went to the girl’s home on Johns Island around 6 p.m. Tuesday after two of her siblings had not been picked up at school, Tecklenburg said.

The mother was found “brutally beaten” but officers did not find Heidi, Tecklenburg said. Two other children were found in the home unharmed, the mayor said.

The woman said she was attacked as she returned home, but investigators don’t know exactly when that was or where she had gone, Tecklenburg said.

Investigators have not found any connection between Evans and the girl’s family and they haven’t figured out a motive for the kidnapping, the mayor said.

Authorities said Heidi’s dad was on a plane to reunite with his daughter in Riverside, Alabama, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Birmingham, authorities said.

“I saw a picture of her with a happy, smiling face,” Tecklenburg said.

The girl’s mother remains in the hospital and underwent surgery Wednesday, the mayor said.

Authorities spent the past 24 hours looking for the girl, searching nearby ponds and flying over Charleston in helicopters. Neighbors came to hear the mayor’s news conference Wednesday night and cheered and clapped when he said Heidi was safe.

“What could have been a day of great tragedy has really been a day of joy,” Tecklenburg said.