BELTON — Two Belton children found in a suspected kidnapping were at first reported as runaways because one had briefly ran away from home in the past, “so it was looked at as a possible runaway situation,” city of Belton spokesman Paul Romer said Monday.
The children reported missing Friday from their Belton home were located Saturday in Winslow, Ariz., a Belton Police Department Facebook post said.
As Belton Police got more evidence, the investigation changed paths.
The situation turned into an abduction after the father found a recent social media message between the alleged kidnapper and one of the juveniles. That was when truck driver Marshall Pendergrass, who was known to the family, became the main person of interest, Romer said.
“With the diligence and perseverance of our night shift, we learned otherwise. We were able to locate them and bring them home before an alert could be issued.”
No Amber Alert was issued, Romer said, because “by the time this situation met the Amber Alert criteria, Pendergrass was in the sights of law enforcement. Alerting the public was not needed and could potentially have tipped off Pendergrass.”
Pendergrass, 47, of Jacksonville, Fla., is suspected in the kidnapping of siblings Nathan Rodgers, 12, and Rachel Rogers, 14, both of Belton.
The juveniles were identified numerous times on Facebook by family and friends in an attempt to locate them.
According to Kylie Rodgers’ Facebook post, neither Nathan nor Rachel took their cellphones with them.
Rachel is a freshman at Belton High School. Nathan is a sixth grade student.
Romer said Nathan and Rachel met with Pendergrass in Belton “but, at some point, their willingness to be with him changed.”
The children hadn’t been returned to Belton, and Belton Police were not aware Monday of a timeline for their return, Romer said.
In a news release, Winslow Police Department said information they received “led to the location of a semi-truck located in the 400 block of Transcom Lane in Winslow. …Officers found Nathan Rodgers and Rachel Rodgers, who were allegedly held against their will by Pendergrass, who isn’t related to the children. The children were turned over to the Arizona Department of Child Services, and they were in good physical condition.”
Nathan was friends on Facebook with Pendergrass.
The FBI was contacted and are jointly investigating is with the Winslow Police.
Since it is a joint investigation, no one from the Winslow Police Department could address questions, an official said.
Pendergrass is in federal custody, the Winslow Police Department news release said.
Currently, there are no plans to extradite Pendergrass to Bell County because he traveled with the children through multiple states. That makes the FBI the lead agency, Romer said.
“All indications are that he will face federal charges.”