Two missing Ponchatoula boys were located “safe and fine” in Florida on Wednesday, but their biological mother who is suspected of kidnapping them is still on the run.
Chief Jimmy Travis, of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, said officers in Santa Rosa County, Florida, located 8-year-old Kaesyn Heck and 4-year-old Jax Matthews around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after they were first reported missing.
Shawntel Heck, 38, fled on foot and was still being sought by Florida officers when Travis addressed the media at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“They located the children, but the female fled on foot,” he said. “As far as we know they’re still searching for her in a wooded area.”
According to Travis, the Sheriff’s Office received a call about a vehicle theft and child abduction in the southeast part of the Tangipahoa Parish around 4 p.m. Tuesday. The victim, the boys’ father, said he pulled into his driveway and left the kids inside with the vehicle running while he went to get a tool from the shed.
“When he returned a few minutes later, the car was missing, and there was no signs of the children,” Travis said.
Detectives later learned that Heck had received a ride from “a good Samaritan” to the victim’s house. According to Travis, the driver said he dropped Heck off at what he believed was her home. When he backed out and left, he saw Heck get into the stolen vehicle and “back out behind him.”
The person who gave Heck a ride is not considered a suspect, Travis said.
“He really didn’t even know who [Heck] was, other than she was stranded some place on foot and needed a ride home,” Travis said.
After the father reported the children and car as missing, the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office contacted Louisiana State Police, who then issued a Level II Child Endangerment Alert Wednesday morning before upgrading it to an Amber Alert shortly after.
The New Orleans Child exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force also assisted in the case.
Upon learning Heck was from Florida, local authorities contacted those in Santa Rosa County, who eventually found the children and the missing car before Heck fled into a wooded area.
The boys are currently in protective custody until their father can get them, Travis said.
Heck could face charges of simple kidnapping and unauthorized use of a vehicle, Travis said.
“This is still fluid in Florida because they don’t have her in custody yet,” Travis said.