Abducted 6-year-old girl found chained to tree in North Carolina

(WISH Photo, file)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WNCN) – A 6-year-old Wilmington, North Carolina, girl at the center of an AMBER Alert was found chained to a tree early Thursday morning, officials said.

Stefanny Lenneth Lopez-Castro was found alive and is in good condition, according to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.

Her father told CBS North Carolina he is incredibly grateful to authorities and the community for all their help.

Registered sex offender Douglas Edwards, 46, is in custody in connection with the girl’s disappearance.

Edwards was found riding a moped about seven miles from the scene Thursday morning. Authorities said Edwards did not know the girl before her disappearance. But he lives near the area where she was found.

He was charged with first-degree kidnapping.  Edwards is expected to make his first court appearance Friday morning. His bond was set at $9 million, according to jail records.

An AMBER Alert was issued late Wednesday for the girl after she was taken from her neighborhood around 4:50 p.m.. The alert said Lopez-Castro potential abductor was riding a moped.

Authorities were searching for the girl along River Road when a K-9 officer helped locate her.

She was found chained to a tree in a wooded area just to miles from her home.

A witness gave law enforcement a battery-operated saw to cut the girl free. She was transported to the hospital for evaluation.

“We beat the odds today, it’s safe to say,” Sheriff Edward McMahon said during a news conference. “We worked tirelessly, relentlessly through the night and I am glad to say, thank the Lord we found her this morning alive and well.”

McMahon said Edwards was under surveillance all Wednesday night before officials took him into custody. McMahon said the community stepped forward to help with leads.

“I have a granddaughter at that age,” McMahon said, getting emotional at the news conference. “It’s personal when this is in our community and this stuff doesn’t normally happen, so this is very personal and it should be to everybody.”

Neighbors and friends were at the girl’s home throughout Thursday to support the Lopez-Castro family.

“It was the worst day for us yesterday because not even, we don’t know what’s going on with her. If she’s doing OK,” said family friend Leslie Hernandez. “Right now she’s not talking about it. She’s so happy. Like she’s so happy to see the family and the friends.”

Investigators are still questioning Edwards about Lopez-Castro’s disappearance. Deputies set up checkpoints along Antoinette Drive Thursday evening to ask drivers for information about the abduction.

Edwards was convicted of first-degree sexual offense and indecent liberties with a minor in 1996.

The victim related to those convictions was 6 years old at the time of the offenses, according to the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry. Edwards was 24 when the offenses occurred in 1994.

He spent 16 years in prison and released in May 2012.

Lopez-Castro is expected to be released from the hospital Friday.

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