INVESTIGATES: Motel owner describes moments police get abducted children to safety

LAKE CITY, Fla. — An Amber Alert issued Wednesday night in Columbia County was canceled after deputies in Suwannee County found the kids in a Branford motel Thursday afternoon.

The sheriff’s office told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant the kids, 2-year-old Lucy Evans and 4-year-old Jaxson Evans, were okay and unharmed.

RELATED: Abducted Columbia County children found safe, parents arrested

The biological parents, 24-year-old David Evans and 23-year-old Sydni Jones, were arrested at the Steamboat Dive Inn.

The owner of the inn said Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers suspected the children were inside one of the inn’s rooms. Dustin Clesi did a maintenance check and confirmed the family was inside and told police before officers busted in.

“The police officers were in so quick. They were on the children within an eye blink,” Clesi said. “The father had cleaned himself up. He shaved. He cut his hair. He looked nothing like what was in the police photo.”

The kids will now go back into their grandparents’ custody. The family lives on SW Birch Glen in Lake City.

“We are very grateful for the outcome of this case,” said Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter. “I would like to commend our team of detectives, along with the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office, FDLE, federal law enforcement partners, and local community for helping to bring this case to a quick and safe conclusion.”

According to the sheriff’s office, the parents did not have custody, but Jones had visitation rights with supervision.

Fred Kingery lives nearby and attended church with the family and knew Evans growing up. “I was surprised they had two children and lost custody. David [Evans] was always pretty level-headed.”

Action News Jax requested previous arrest reports for Evans.

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According to the sheriff’s office, he was arrested in October 2020 on a charge of felony battery by strangulation.

Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson said the case could be tried in either state or federal court and both parents will face parental abduction charges.

An Amber Alert was sent to most phones by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Thursday morning at 8 a.m., which is more than ten hours after police said the children were abducted.

In a statement, the FDLE told Action News Jax, “To ensure maximum visibility, cell phone alerts are sent between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. when more citizens are traveling on Florida roadways increasing the likelihood these citizens may see the abducted child.  Cell phone alerts are less beneficial when sent during times when most citizens are home. Additionally, sending cell phone alerts in the overnight hours increases the likelihood citizens will opt out of receiving them meaning fewer people will see them.”