The parents of a missing six-year-old girl who was found hidden in a secret room under the stairwell of a New York home are believed to have abducted her while her older sister was at school.
Paislee Shultis was found on Monday in a “small, cold and wet” hideout inside her grandfather’s home in Saugerties, upstate New York, following a tip-off.
The little girl had not been seen since she was four years old when she was kidnapped back in July 2019.
For the last two years, police had suspected her biological parents were responsible for her disappearance. They had searched the home more than a dozen times but found nothing – until Monday’s shocking discovery.
Paislee’s mother Kimberly Cooper, 33, father Kirk Shultis Jr, 32, and paternal grandfather Kirk Shultis Sr, 57, were all arrested and charged over her disappearance on Monday night. They appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday, where they refused to answer any questions and Ms Cooper hid her face from reporters under a blanket.
Paislee’s parents lost custody of her and her older sister in 2019 and custody of both girls was granted to a legal guardian.
It is not clear who the guardian is or why the girls’ biological parents lost custody.
Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra toldThe Daily Freeman that the very day Paislee vanished was the day that authorities were due to take custody of the children and hand them over to the guardian.
Paislee’s older sister was at school at the time of her sister’s abduction and went to live with the guardian as planned.
Meanwhile, investigators believe Paislee was taken directly to her grandfather’s home by her abductors and had been kept there ever since.
Paislee has since been reunited with her older sister and their legal guardian.
Chief Sinagra said the little girl remembered her older sister and that officers had taken her for a McDonalds on the way to reunite them because she said she had not had any fast food for a long time.
Police said that Paislee does not appear to have been mistreated by her family members and is in good health.
Chief Sinagra said that the six-year-old had her own bedroom inside the home but that the hiding place appeared to have been used frequently whenever authorities came searching for her.
The little girl stayed silent for around four hours during Monday’s search while she and her mother were holed up under the stairwell, he said.
The six-year-old has also missed out on going to school so can’t read and write and has likely not received any medical care.
Chief Sinagra said, while he doesn’t know why the children were removed from the parents’ care initially, he hopes that there could be a time in the future where they are all reunited.
“I am hoping that some time in future that the family has learned from this, and that with proper services put in place by county social services, by the Ulster County Family Child Advocacy Center, and by CPS, that eventually the family will gain the right to actually get the custody of the kids, which is ultimately what we’re looking for,” he told CBS Local.
However, he said these hopes may be scuppered because of the parents’ alleged actions in abducting and hiding Paislee.
“If they had complied with that court order two years ago, depending on what the deficiency was within the household that caused a judge to remove those children, there’s a good possibility that they could’ve take corrective action, and today they would have full custody of those kids,” he said.
“Now, I don’t know again what that deficiency was, so that may or may not be the case.”
Ms Cooper was charged with two misdemeanour counts of custodial interference and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child.
Mr Shultis Jr and Mr Shultis Sr were each charged with one felony count of custodial interference in the first degree and one misdemeanor count of child endangerment.
All three appeared in court on Wednesday where Ms Cooper was given her next court date of 2 March while the Shultis father and son will next appear in court on 27 April.
Police said the investigation is ongoing and further arrests could be made.