SCOTLAND COUNTY, NC (WMBF) - After a multi-agency search for a missing infant child and her mother, Scotland County Sheriff’s Office said it was all a hoax and that one person has been arrested.
Danilla Mitzia “Missy” Bethea, 30 of Rockingham, NC, was arrested Friday night on 10 counts of felony obtaining property by false pretenses and one count of felony false reports to a law enforcement agency pertaining to a missing child.
Bethea is being held on a $100,000 secured bond at the Scotland County Detention Facility.
“Upon intensive investigative measures, we were able to locate a suspect who was alleged to have been involved in this situation," Lt. Jessica Sadovnikov with SCSO said. “Upon conclusion of the interview, investigators confirmed that there was not a woman named April Morrison or missing infant child at any point.”
The search began when SCSO received a missing person report Thursday from two female parties, mother and daughter, who believed there was a female infant child, born to a female named April Morrison.
SCSO worked Thursday night into Friday tracking down information surrounding the disappearance of a Hispanic female known as April Morrison and her infant daughter known as Lee Ann Morrison.
The reports initially indicated that Morrison was being held against her will and provided information that led investigators to suspect her and her infant daughter may be victims of human trafficking or prostitution. The women suggested that the infant child was sold for monetary value or in exchange for illicit narcotics either by Morrison’s consent or by force.
On Thursday and Friday, investigators from multiple agencies interviewed Bethea who at some point stated Morrison was safe, and that her baby was in the care of unknown third parties and was also safe.
Investigators identified inconsistencies that gave concern to the safety of this infant child, and the legitimacy of the care or caretakers who allegedly would possess the child. The release goes on to say that investigators believed the child was in danger and was possibly sold or exchanged to parties engaged in illicit prostitution or human trafficking.
As the investigation continued, investigators determined the statements provided by Bethea were allegedly false. April Morrison was a fictional character and there was no infant child named Lee Ann Morrison.
Authorities believe these false statements were made and provided for the purposes of allegedly receiving money from the reporting party who believed she was supporting an infant child in need, and one whom she believed she would gain custody or guardianship over.
The image of the infant child provided was an image obtained allegedly through social media.
In the release it says:
“The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office takes every single report of a missing person and/ or child seriously. The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office is trained and ready to respond to and act swiftly and thoroughly in all reports of any person who may be suspected of being victim to human trafficking or, sexual servitude. The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office believes that in any report of a missing person and, especially any missing juvenile or infant child regardless of the nature of how they came to be missing, is extremely important and a matter that must be addressed immediately and as expediently as possible. This includes information sharing, local, state and federal resources, and information sharing with all available media outlets. This ensures maximizing the potential that a missing person, and especially a child, could be found safely by law enforcement and search and rescue personnel.”
A press conference was held Friday afternoon where authorities asked for the media and the public’s help in finding the two missing persons.
They said they were in the process of getting an AMBER Alert for the 3-week old baby, but were denied because of the information surrounding the investigation.
Then, shortly after 9 p.m. Friday, authorities said it became known that this was all a hoax.
“The photo put out of the child in this investigation was stolen off of Facebook,” Sadovnikov said. "Upon completion of our interviews, investigators confirmed our reporting parties were made to believe that there was a child in danger and in need for purposes of extorting money from my reporting parties.”
In a press release Friday night, SCSO said:
"The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office extends sincere and deep gratitude to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rockingham Police Department, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Fayetteville Police Department, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office would also like to thank the media outlets and reporters who worked hard and was patient and enduring in their efforts to collect information and provide it to the public as quickly as possible. Your dedication is important in sharing vital information especially in this case."
The missing person report stated that Morrison arrived in the Richmond County area approximately 8 months pregnant and gave birth to a female infant child recently. The infant was said to be in danger and not in the care of her mother.
“The witness contacted reporting parties and stated that she had actually made it back to New Jersey and possibly was deceased,” Sadovnikov said. “My witnesses started frantically inquiring about where the child was at that time. At which time a lot of conflicting stories were presented, they became incredibly uncomfortable and provided that information to us.”
She went on to say the FBI was contacted within an hour of the report being made and are currently assisting in the investigation.
SCSO was assisted by Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Fayetteville Police Department, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Rockingham Police Department, The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, Scotland County agencies, and the FBI.