POLK COUNTY, Fla. – West Hogs and 4-year-old Rebecca Lewis were spotted by a Tennessee park ranger Sunday night, and the kidnapped girl should have been rescued right then, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during press conference Monday.
The ranger didn’t realize who they were, though, because the state refused to issue an Amber Alert for Lewis, something that made Judd visibly angry.
“The state of Tennessee chose not to do an Amber Alert when we asked them to,” he said, explaining state officials didn’t believe there was any reason to believe Hogs and Lewis were in Tennessee. “Here’s a news flash, Tennessee, he was there.”
The ranger spotted the stolen gray 2012 Nissan Versa Hogs was driving between 10-11 p.m. Sunday at Cove Lake State Park and asked the man what he was doing.
Hogs, 31, told the ranger that he was waiting for Lewis’ mother to pick her up, “which was obviously a lie,” Judd said.
The ranger told Hogs the park was closed and that he needed to leave, but saw a bulletin on the missing girl and realized he’d let the alleged kidnapper escape with Lewis.
Hogs was a former family friend who lived with Lewis and her family two years ago, Judd said.
They had no contact with him since he was kicked out for pulling a gun on the family, Judd added.
“It’s not like he’s taken off with a neighbor kid that he’s been like an uncle to,” he said.
Investigators still do not know what Hogs’ intentions were with the girl but Judd said “she is certainly in immediate danger.”
Lewis and Hogs were also sighted at a Forsythe, Georgia, gas station along Interstate 75 several hours after she was reported missing Saturday.
Rebecca, who was seen in surveillance footage with Hogs, appeared to be in good health. She was wearing a light-colored T-shirt and blue jeans.
Deputies said they began their search for Rebecca Saturday morning after her 16-year-old sister noticed that she was missing from her bedroom in the Lazy Dazy Retreat, a mobile home park on U.S. Highway 98 North in Lakeland.
Rebecca’s parents spent more than an hour searching for her before calling deputies, investigators said.
Deputies said Hogs has been driving a stolen gray 2012 Nissan Versa with Alabama handicapped license plate 4JL26.
Judd urged Hogs to let Lewis go, and warned him against harming her.
“Don’t you hurt that baby, you keep that baby safe,” he said, pointing into the cameras. “We’ll worry about catching you later, but we want that child back right now.”
Anyone who spots the pair or who has information about their whereabouts is asked to call 1-877-419-0934.