After two-year-old Charlee Campbell and her dog Penny had been missing for almost two days, those searching for her must have feared the worst. Presumably out in the open and with just a canine for company, things were starting to look bleak for the little girl. But then a man noticed a shape on his porch; could this be a breakthrough?
Charlee comes from the city of Lebanon Junction in Kentucky. She lives there with her grandparents, who also have custody of the tot. However, in June 2018 the little girl went missing from her home.
Charlee’s disappearance sparked a large-scale police search, which was aided by around 100 volunteers. The search party focused the majority of their efforts on an area of woodland near to the little girl’s home. But Charlee was nowhere to be seen.
A day after the tot had gone missing, police investigations took a worrying turn when four sniffer dogs involved in the search for the little girl seemed to show an interest in something. The dogs were sniffing around a pool on the family’s property, but the search there eventually drew a blank.
As a result, police and volunteers continued to look for Charlee. Almost 32 hours into the search, Erik Butler, the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department chief, was visiting Charlee’s grandparents at their home. And it was then that the investigation had a breakthrough.
While Butler was at the address a dog turned up at the house – and the canine in question was the Campbell family’s pit bull, Penny. At that point, it was believed the animal may have been with Charlee. So, the fire chief decided to investigate.
Given Penny’s sudden appearance, Butler hoped that Charlee was also in the vicinity. So he called Bullitt County Sheriff Donnie Tinnell, who had some good news: the toddler was safe and well. Charlee had been found just 500 yards from her grandparents’ home.
Charlee had apparently walked out of the woods adjacent to her grandparents’ home before arriving on her neighbor Wayne Brown’s porch. A father of two himself, Brown told WLKY he “had been sitting on my couch and asking God to please let somebody find her.”
Little Charlee was found in the Frozen pajama top she had reportedly been wearing when she disappeared. However, she was no longer wearing her diaper. Moreover, the little girl was scratched, dirty and covered in ticks. She was also so dehydrated that Brown said she quickly downed a bottle and a half of water.
The neighbor also noted that Charlee was rather quiet. In June 2018 he told WDRB, “She handed me this bottle. And I said ‘Are you Charlee?’ She didn’t answer me. She wouldn’t say anything.” The only thing she did utter was the word “puppy” after she was reunited with her dog Penny.
Given the timings of both of their reappearances, some people believed Penny had stayed by Charlee’s side for the duration of the time the toddler was missing. Some even thought the animal may have saved the child’s life by watching over her in the woods.
Among those to sing Penny’s praises was Charlee’s grandmother Beth Campbell. Speaking about the dog, Campbell later told WIS-TV, “When my dog didn’t come home, and my baby wasn’t home, she was not going to leave that baby until she got here.”
Meanwhile, Sheriff Tinnell was astonished that Charlee could have survived almost two days in the wilderness. He told WAVE 3, “There’s coyotes in them hills. There’s copperheads and rattlesnakes and ticks – all the elements. And somehow she came out in pretty good shape.”
Tinnell was particularly confused as to how responders could have missed Charlie and Penny, despite searching the area they emerged from around six times. “That big dog (Penny), because he’s huge, and that child looks like it would be hard to miss,” he said.
Tinnell added, “It might be a circumstance where she got tired and laid down and went to sleep for hours on end – behind a stump or behind a tree or who knows what, a big rock – it’s possible to overlook, I guess, if the dog laid down with her.”
Tinnell admitted it was possible the search party had simply missed Charlee and Penny. However, because there were so many questions surrounding the child’s disappearance, Child Protective Services stepped in to take custody of her. In the meantime, the police quizzed Charlee’s family members in a bid to establish the circumstances around her vanishing.
Police reportedly had their doubts that Charlee was in the woods the entire time she was missing. Instead, Tinnell suggested she may have been at someone’s home. As a result, Charlee underwent forensic testing to determine if she’d eaten anything while unaccounted for and also if she’d suffered any abuse.
Investigators also requested a warrant to search the cell phone records of Charlee’s relatives. According to WLKY, Tinnell believed the child’s disappearance may have had something to do with an alleged custody disagreement between her grandmother and her mom.
Despite these allegations, Charlee’s great-grandmother Lisa Chesher told WAVE 3 there was nothing untoward about the tot’s disappearance. “She has just learned to unlock the deadbolt,” Chester explained in a June 2018 interview.
In the days following Charlee’s disappearance, Beth Campbell was charged with endangering the welfare of a minor after the grandmother allegedly “admitted to using meth while she was watching/caring” for the child. However, the case against Campbell was later dropped.