KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – After an extensive week-long search for Carlie Trent, two citizens are credited for finding the 9-year-old in a rural part of Hawkins County, Tennessee, eight days after she was kidnapped by her uncle.
“Carlie is safe tonight because of an entire community pulling together and working with law enforcement to bring her home,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said.
Gwyn said two men, Donnie Lawson and Stewart Franklin, discovered the girl and her uncle while searching a large area of property in the Clinch Valley area.
Franklin was riding an ATV when he found Carlie walking around carrying a teddy bear on property belonging to Lawson’s brother, property the TBI described as “only accessible by four-wheel drive.”
Franklin held Simpson at gunpoint soon after while Lawson called 911.
“These are just two heroes who went on their property just to see if by chance could they be there and they were,” he said. “We are sure the family of Carlie Trent sends their heartfelt thanks for the actions that were taken today.”
Two other men, Roger Carpenter and Larry “Hambone” Hamblen, were also searching the property at the time of the discovery.
WKRN spoke with Carpenter by phone. He said he and his three friends who spent all that time searching are “just overjoyed” with the outcome.
“We have prayed, we have walked, we have rode ATVs, we’ve done it all for seven days,” he said. “We got the answer that we were looking for. I can say that, and the situation looks to me, now I’m not a professional, about as good as it turned out.”
Carpenter said he knows the country. He described himself a country boy and mountain man who knows the area well.
“This man that we were after lives not far from my farm, and I know that country all over in there pretty good, and just had a good suspicion that if I was going to hide that’s where I’d go,” he said.
He described the area as “a very remote region, very hard to find, but perfect to hide.”
When asked why he took upon himself to start searching for little Carlie, Carpenter had several reasons. He said the number one reason is because he “loves the Lord,” and he also loves kids.
But what really hit home was how much Carlie reminded him of his own granddaughter.
“I’ve got a little granddaughter, Calie Carpenter, that is almost a spitting image of this girl, and when she went missing, everybody was calling saying, and ‘It’s not Calie, is it?’ and boy, it struck home and it hurt my heart. I couldn’t hardly look at my granddaughter without crying. I had to do something,” he explained.
Carpenter added that he wants to thank everybody and listed multiple law enforcement agencies.
He concluded, “It makes me proud to be a Tennessee Volunteer. What better thing could you volunteer for than go hunt a child? And all the glory goes to God. I owe Him so much tonight.”
While it is unknown how long the girl and her uncle were on the property, authorities said they located the van Simpson was last seen driving near their makeshift campsite.
“Anytime someone is taken like this – kidnapped – we know that time is not on our side. We’ve got to act and react quickly,” Gwyn said. “Thank God she was rescued safe.”
Carlie was transported to a local hospital where she will be checked out, though authorities said she “appeared to be ok.”
“Depending on what state she’s in, that will depend on if we talk to her tonight, tomorrow or next week,” Margie Quin, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, said.
The TBI vows that their work is not done because Carlie has been found safe and they will now work with the district attorney to “ensure Gary Simpson is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I think this is a clear message that we should send to the public that we have to have your help in these type of cases,” Gwyn said.
“The public was very vested in bringing Carlie home,” Quin said, adding that Simpson’s family was “very cooperative” during the course of the investigation.
Simpson is currently charged with especially aggravated kidnapping. Additional charges could be possible.
Simpson is accused of lying to school officials as he checked her out of school on May 4.
Prior to picking her up, Simpson purchased camping supplies and clothes for himself and Carlie. The two were then spotted at a local grocery store before an AMBER Alert was issued for Carlie on May 5.