More than three years after two young girls went missing from Franklin County following a custody dispute, their mother surrendered to Waynesboro police.
Lashada Lee traveled to the Waynesboro Police Department on Wednesday and turned herself in, police said in a news release on Thursday. She is charged with two felony counts of interference with child custody.
The girls, Hanna Lee and Skye Rex, were 7 and 5 when their father unsuccessfully attempted to retrieve them from their mother per a judge’s custody order just after the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020. Today, they are 10 and 8.
“Hanna and Skye are safe, healthy, and currently in the protective custody of Franklin County Children and Youth Services,” Waynesboro Police said in a news release on Thursday.
Police first announced late Wednesday afternoon that the girls had been found and Lee was taken into custody. Police have not said where Lee and the girls had been. It was previously reported that she had family in the Washington, D.C., area, and court documents state Lee sold her vehicle in that region.
The girls’ father, John Rex, spoke out about his search for the girls over the three years they were missing. He released a statement through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
“I’m so grateful for everyone’s support in helping us get to this day. Time froze three (years) ago when my beautiful girls were suddenly taken from my life. I’m overjoyed and now focusing on getting the girls back home with me. I ask for privacy at this time as we navigate the coming days,” Rex said.
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How the investigation of Lee and the missing girls began
The affidavit of probable cause shows that police had a variety of evidence indicating Lee her Waynesboro home after learning Rex had been awarded full custody of their daughters.
A Waynesboro police officer filed the document at Magisterial District Justice Annie Gomez Shockey’s office in Waynesboro on June 2, 2020. It was made publicly available following her arraignment Wednesday.
Rex first contacted Waynesboro Police about 6:25 p.m. March 20, 2020, following multiple attempts to find Lee and his daughters.
He told them a judge in Washington County, Md., issued an emergency modification custody order on March 17 that granted him full custody of the children. Police confirmed that and other parts of Rex’s story.
Rex said Lee’s attorney notified her of the order on March 18. That same day, he sent Lee a Facebook message to make arrangements for him to get the children the next day after he arrived in the area from Florida, where he lives.
Rex never heard back from Lee, which he said was unordinary because they communicated regularly. Police examined their text conversations in Facebook Messenger, which showed Lee almost always opened Rex’s messages and responded to them. The message about the custody order did not have the marking to indicate it was opened.
The last time Rex talked to his children was by a video call with Lashada’s Facebook account on March 15. He said they appeared to be at her apartment.
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As he stated in the March 18 message, Rex went to the Hagerstown Police Department the following day, but the children were not there. He then went to Lee’s home in Waynesboro, and no one was there.
A police officer called and sent messages to Lee’s phone a number of times over two days, but she never responded.
Police also visited her apartment complex on March 20, the day Rex made his report. Neighbors said they had not seen Lee’s vehicle for a few days. In the common area, a shelf designated for Lee’s apartment number contained papers dated March 17, 2020.
Police returned on March 30 for a welfare check, and maintenance provided entry. It appeared as if Lee and the children were still living there, as the kitchen was stocked with food and supplies, and furniture and personal property such as clothing and toys were there.
That day, police entered the children as missing into the National Crime Information Center, a nationwide database of missing persons and criminal information. The case was shared on social media and reported by news media.
Throughout that spring, police checked Lee’s residence for activity. The property manager said she did not pay rent for April or May and did not respond to emails.
An official from Waynesboro Area School District reported that Hanna, who was in first grade, had not been participating in virtual schooling (due to the COVID-19 closure) and Lee was not responding to emails.
Late in May, police learned Lee’s vehicle was for sale at a dealership in Fredericksburg, Va. They confirmed Lee originally sold it to a dealership in Maryland on March 23. The dealership gave police a photo of the vehicle taken they day it was purchased, which appeared to show a young girl in the background. Rex said it appeared to be one of his daughters, but the name was redacted from the affidavit.
On May 28, police executed a search warrant on Lee’s apartment. Everything appeared as it did when officers did the welfare check two months earlier, and milk in the fridge had an expiration date of March 20. Police found an opened certified letter dated March 5, in which Lee’s attorney notified her they would no longer represent her.
After being arraigned Wednesday evening, Lee was released on $25,000 unsecured bail, court records show. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Franklin County Central Court.
Amber South can be reached at email@example.com.