CHIPLEY, Fla. —Investigators spent five days searching a rural area of dense vines and marshes for a missing infant, only to find her lying quietly in a 2-foot by 3-foot cedar box that had been shoved under her baby sitter's bed.
Clothing was packed around it to muffle any sounds and baking soda placed inside to mask the stench of dirty diapers.
Authorities said the baby's mother, Chrystina Lynn Mercer, gave the infant to baby sitter Susan Elizabeth Baker early Saturday, then reported her missing about 10 hours later. About 100 law enforcement agents and others spent days scouring around the baby's home in a remote, makeshift community of dirt roads, tin-roof shacks and old mobile homes. Searchers also dug through trash cans and bins.
All along, the baby was under the bed.
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Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock choked up Thursday as he described how 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick was stashed in the box for 12 straight hours before investigators discovered her late Wednesday. They believe she had been in the closed box on and off for several days.
"She was way back under the bed," he said. "But she was not crying."
Baker had written a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist's office in August, pleading for help for the baby and claiming her father shook her and both parents did drugs in front of her. She asked Mercer a week ago if she could have permanent custody, Haddock said. Officials do not think the baby's father, who is Baker's stepbrother, was involved in the disappearance.
Haddock said Shannon apparently had been fed and cared for while she was with Baker, who lived about 12 miles from Mercer. He said Baker became a suspect several days ago but never told them where the baby was, even as they interviewed her.
Shannon appeared healthy, much to the relief of investigators.
"Once we got the hospital, five or six of us called our wives to let them know that we found the child and a lot grown men were shedding tears," Haddock said.
Mercer was charged with interference of child custody, desertion of a child and several other charges. Charges against Baker included neglect of a child with aggravated circumstances and interference of child custody.
Bond was set at $150,000 for Baker and $75,000 for Mercer.
The judge told Mercer she couldn't have contact with her daughter, who was in state custody, if she posts bond. Both women said they understood the charges against them and their arraignments were scheduled for Dec. 14.