POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (KMOV.com) – A 5-year-old girl abducted in Poplar Bluff was found safe hours later Wednesday, and the convicted sex offender suspected of taking her was arrested, authorities said.
Police said Abigail Berthoff, 5, was found in Jeffrey Shelton’s vehicle during a traffic stop near Highway 67 and Highway 160 shortly before 2 p.m.. She appeared to be unhurt, but was taken to Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center as a precaution, according to police.
Poplar Bluff Officer Darron Moore said the suspect’s silver 2001 Nissan Pathfinder was spotted and stopped by officers from the Poplar Bluff department, Butler County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Shelton did not try to flee and did not resist arrest, Moore said. He was being held at the Butler County jail.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, for her to be safely returned to her mother and for the suspect hopefully to be in custody for the rest of his life and never do this again,” Moore said.
Family members who came to the hospital were seen embracing each other in relief.
Authorities said a warrant for kidnapping was pending against Shelton. Butler County prosecutor Kevin Barbour said he was finalizing paperwork on charges, but declined to say what those charges would entail.
Berthoff was initially reported missing from her home in the 2100 block of Wood Street around 6:50 a.m. Police said Berthoff’s mother, Eva Crawford said she last saw her daughter sleeping on the couch in their living room around 10 p.m. Tuesday night.
Police said Abigail had last been seen with Shelton, 46. A person who knows Shelton saw the two together. When asked if the two had ever been seen together before, the witness said, “no.”
According to the Missouri Sex Offender Registry, Shelton was convicted in Fort Hood, Texas in 1989 for sodomizing a 6-year-old girl. In 1990, he was convicted for kidnapping, sodomizing and raping a 12-year-old girl. He was also convicted in Texas that same year for attempting to kidnap a 13-year-old girl.
Most recently, Shelton was wanted by the Butler County Sheriff’s Department for abduction and assault.
Moore said the girl’s family does not know the man and it wasn’t clear what would have led him to the child, or how he was able to get her out of the home.
FBI Special Agent Mark Aldrich said dozens of officers in the air and on the ground were searching in the hours before the girl was found, and police in surrounding states also were on the lookout. Poplar Bluff is near the Missouri-Arkansas border.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.