In the hours before James Trent’s world was turned upside down, he left his Tennessee home early to go to work, pausing to say goodbye to the man who would later abduct his 9-year-old daughter.
Gary Simpson, 57, smiled and waved that Wednesday morning, a typical routine for the next door neighbors and brothers-in-law.
“I had no idea what he had planned in his mind for later that day,” Trent, 39, told InsideEdition.com on Monday, five days after his daughter and brother-in-law were last seen.
That day at 1:25 p.m. Simpson went to Trent’s oldest daughter’s school and told officials that he had been in a bad accident, saying that she probably wouldn’t be in school the next day.
Officials at Hawkins Elementary School in Rogersville let Carlie Trent go with her uncle, who is married to her father’s sister, since he had parental permission to pick up the vivacious little girl from school.
“It’s just so unreal,” Trent told IE.com.
“No one saw this coming, anyone who knows me knows I’m very protective so this is shocking to say the least,” Trent wrote on Facebook. “Never saw this coming… it was a deep down evil inside him.”
He repeated the classification on Monday, saying: “It would have to be for somebody to just scoop up your child and just take off and just go. It would have to be.”
A single father, Trent had long relied on his sister and her husband to help with his two girls. Simpson often took care of his nieces while their dad was at work and at one point had temporary custody with his wife of the girls while Trent spent time in prison.
“He’d go out of his way for me. He didn’t give any clues he’d do this,” the heartbroken father said. “I’ve known that man the majority of my life.”
Simpson has been married to Trent’s sister for 34 years. The kidnapping has left her stunned as well, Trent said.
“She’s been with that man for that many years and lived that close in the home with him and never noticed anything out of the ordinary,” Trent said.
Investigators and the community are at a loss as to what possessed Simpson to abduct his niece. He has no criminal record.
“I personally think that for some reason, he’s developed this obsession with Carlie. There’s a reason he chose her and not my other daughter. He had access to both of them every single day. She would’ve gone with Gary, too. She trusted him, too,” Trent said. “He chose Carlie and I don’t know why.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said on Monday it was shifting its resources to continue the search for Carlie, saying that there had been no credible sightings of the child, her uncle or the white Dodge van in which they’re believed to be traveling.
Simpson was seen on video purchasing camping gear the day he took Carlie, but Trent noted that his brother-in-law is not an experienced camper.
“No—not at all,” he emphasized.
Simpson and Trent’s sister have an adult son with disabilities who requires 24-hour care, Trent said.
“(Simpson) runs basic errands, goes to doctors’ appointments, then he’s right back home—every single day.
“I don’t really know where he’d bring her,” Trent continued. “I say they’re under cover somewhere, (that) they’re in a deeply wooded area, maybe even an old barn. He might be right under our nose or may have gotten on the highway and kept driving…”
The distraught father trails off when talking about the many “ifs” in his daughter’s disappearance.
“I stop and sit and just think sometimes. I just try to sit and wonder where are they at right now,” he said. “They’re sitting somewhere right this very second. I wonder what she’s thinking, what she’s doing.”
He said he’s concerned that Simpson may try to convince his oldest daughter that he’s actually hurt or worse.
“I wonder what he’s trying to put in her head, what kind of story he’s told her (about) why he’s doing what he’s doing,” he said. “But I try not to think too deeply into that.”
Instead, he’s focused on bringing back home the little girl he called “a little bit of both” a tomboy and girly girl, the daughter he laughingly said, “can go in and paint her fingernails and then stand outside and dig for worms.”
“I want her to know that we love her… and we’re looking everywhere for her,” Trent said. “Lots of people are looking for her and we’re not going to stop looking for her until we find her.”