A missing girl has been found in Jackson County, and her parents have been charged with child concealment.
The girl was in state custody and living with her grandmother when she went missing. Police located the girl May 16 in her mother’s apartment behind a chest of drawers in a hollowed out hiding spot, police said. The girl has been returned to state custody.
Gary Thomas Ward, 40, 123 Stiener Drive, Charleston, and Tracy Renee Pennington, 41, of 503 Klondyke Road, Apt. 2, both have been charged with felony child concealment, according to a criminal complaint filed in Jackson County Magistrate Court.
Around 8:38 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, Jackson County Chief Deputy Ross Mellinger received a credible tip on the location of the 16-year-old runaway. Mellinger said the tipster saw the girl at the apartment of her mother, Tracy Pennington. The tipster told Mellinger that Pennington planned to keep the girl hidden until she turned 18 so the situation would “go away.”
Deputy B.A. Dewees and other officers went to Pennington’s apartment, but no one answered the door, though Dewees stated in his complaint he could hear someone inside. He then made contact with the landlord, who agreed to give him a key to the apartment.
DeWees found Pennington and Ward in a bedroom inside the residence. Officers noted another bedroom in the home looked as if it was in use. There was a charger next to the bed and a young female’s clothes in the closet, according to the complaint.
Officers asked both Pennington and Ward if they knew the girl’s whereabouts. Pennington claimed the girl was not at the residence and had been missing for months.