A group of Tennessee men are being lauded as heroes after rescuing 9-year-old Carlie Trent from her uncle, who is believed to have kidnapped the little girl more than a week ago, officials said.
Hawkins County residents Donnie Lawson and Stewart Franklin were searching their vast property in the Clinch Valley area by ATV when they came across Gary Simpson, 57, and the little girl, they said. Carlie was walking around clutching a teddy bear.
One of the men held Simpson at gunpoint while the other brought Carlie to safety and called 911, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.
Two other men, Roger Carpenter and Larry Hamblen, were also scouring the land for the child and her uncle at the time of the discovery.
"We've been in the woods every day, searching. It was a blessing we found her. We thank God,” Carpenter told InsideEdition.com Thursday.
The pair was discovered deep into the men’s property “along trails only accessible by four wheel drive,” Gwyn said.
“I have two daughters, and when I've seen children abducted I've wanted to help and I felt like I wanted to help at this time. And I'm very thankful to the Lord that we were able to find her and get her back safely,” Franklin told WVLT-TV. “There's a lot of abandoned cabins in the area and a lot of wilderness in here, so just wanted to be sure and check the area out.”
Carpenter and Hamblen had been searching their land since May 4, when Carlie went missing after Simpson picked her up from her Rogersville elementary school, telling officials there that her father had been in a serious accident, Franklin said.
“Every day walking miles and miles, checking many, many cabins,” Franklin said, adding that he and Lawson joined the search on the sixth day.
Though the group had been by that area before and there didn’t seem to be any tracks to indicate Simpson and Carlie had been nearby, they made sure to leave no stone unturned.
“It's been a lot of prayers offered up and I'm thankful for every person who said a prayer and we're just thrilled to death to find her,” Franklin said. “I just wanted to praise the Lord because there's been a lot of folks looking for her and we wanted her to be okay.”
Carlie and Simpson were found along Highway 70 North at Gravely Valley in Eidson. They were not found at a campground.
“These are just two heroes who went on their property just to see if by chance could they be there and they were,” Gwyn said. “We are sure the family of Carlie Trent sends their heartfelt thanks for the actions that were taken today.”
Carlie showed no outward signs of harm but she was taken to a local hospital where she was undergoing medical evaluations, officials said.
“Thank God they found her! Seen her for a second but they won’t let us talk to her just yet! THANK YOU GOD,” Carlie’s mother wrote on Facebook after her daughter was found.
Simpson was charged with one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, authorities said. He may face additional charges.
He was booked into the Hawkins County Jail, where he is currently being held without bond.
A motive for the alleged kidnapping was not immediately clear. Authorities said they located Simpson’s van near the makeshift campsite.
“Carlie is safe tonight because an entire community pulled together and worked with law enforcement to bring her home,” Gwyn said. “But, our work isn’t done. In the coming days and weeks, we will work with District Attorney Dan Armstrong to ensure that Gary Simpson is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”