Police had walked up and down basement stairs several times as they searched a home in the Saugerties, New York area on Monday for any trace of missing 6-year-old Paislee Shultis for more than two years.
About an hour and a half after the search began, a detective took a closer look at the wooden staircase. “He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something on the stairs that bothered him,” Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra told CNN.
Detective Erik Thiele pointed his flashlight where a staircase met the riser, Sinagra said. Thiele saw what he believed to be a cover and the police began to take down the staircase.
“And as they take the steps off the stairs, they see a set of feet,” the police chief told CNN. “Little feet.”
They were Paislee’s. She was hidden under the stairs with her non-custodial mother, the chief said, huddled in a nest of pillows, blankets and clothes, in what police described as a “damp, dark enclosure”.
Today, the girl is safe, having been returned to her legal guardian and reunited with her older sister. But many questions remain unanswered as investigators try to piece together what she has been through over the past two and a half years.
The girl was unable to attend school and it was unclear if she had seen a doctor since her disappearance, the chief said. And it’s unclear what impact living in those conditions had on her.
The mother, Kimberly Cooper, was arrested, along with Paislee’s non-custodial father and grandfather, who both denied knowledge of Paislee’s whereabouts when police executed their search warrant this week.
Cooper was charged with interfering with second-degree custody and endangering the welfare of a child, two misdemeanors, police say.
Kirk Shultis Jr. and Kirk Shultis Sr. have each been charged with first-degree custody interference, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. Both were arrested and released on their own responsibility, police said. The three defendants were ordered by the court to stay away from the child.
The men’s attorneys declined to comment, while Carol K. Morgan, an attorney representing Cooper, said, “We should all wait for the facts to come out. Everyone should be patient before drawing their own conclusions.
Paislee Joann Shultis was reported missing on July 13, 2019 in Cayuga Heights, a village on the outskirts of Ithaca, about 160 miles west of Saugerties. Sinagra told CNN Cooper and Shultis Jr. lost custody of Paislee and her sister and a legal guardian was granted custody.
Sinagra told CNN that the police received several tips about the house and that they had been there a dozen times over the past two years. But each time, locals denied knowing the girl’s whereabouts and instead clashed with the police, Sinagra said. The police entered several times but were not allowed into the bedrooms or the basement.
“They lied to us for two years – including the father saying he had no idea where his daughter was,” the chief said.
It wasn’t until Monday that police were able to get factual information — not hearsay — that helped them obtain a search warrant, he told CNN. Uniformed officers were posted outside the house around 4pm this afternoon to ensure no one left or entered before police carried out their warrant shortly after 8pm.
In the basement, they found an apartment that included a bedroom with Paislee’s name on a wall, Sinagra said. A bed seemed to have been put to sleep.
“Is she here?” the officers asked, according to the chief. But residents denied anyone lived in the room, he said. “They said they set up the room like that in case Paislee ever came back.”
Paislee was hidden under the stairs just 3 or 4 feet away.
Investigators believe the space under the stairs was used more than once, Sinagra said — possibly each time an officer visited the residence. He highlighted how the stairway was built and how comfortable residents were on Monday as they insisted they didn’t know where Paislee was, an indication for the chief that they were there. had done before.
Sinagra believes they’ve been hiding since the time officers arrived outside the house, meaning they could have been in the ‘wet’ and ‘cold’ space for five hours before arriving. be found.
Neither the girl nor Cooper made a sound when police took down the stairs hiding them, Sinagra said. A detective had described the silence as “strange”, the chief said.
While Sinagra is happy that Paislee was found safe, he also said the case was tragic: whatever the reason Paislee’s parents lost custody of her and her sister, he said. he says, it could have “been rectified by now”.
“But this is going to be a major setback for them,” he said.