It’s a winter afternoon in the woods of Alabama when workers spot a car parked up by the railway tracks. Inside, a young girl sits patiently waiting as the man beside her sleeps. But something about the scene rouses the workers’ suspicion, and when police arrive an incredible drama begins to unfold.
The story began in February 2018 in Whitney Lake, a tight-knit community located on Johns Island off the coast of South Carolina. A few months previously, Brittany Todd had moved to the area with her husband and their five children. Surrounded by young families like themselves, the Todd’s soon settled in to life in the neighborhood.
Brittany occupied herself as a full time mother, while her husband Kevin, who used to be a firefighter, began working for the local Coast Guard. And so it was that on February 13, Kevin was away at a training session, while Brittany was at home caring for their three youngest children. The two eldest of the Todd’s offspring, meanwhile, were attending classes at a local school.
However, when Brittany didn’t turn up to collect her children at the end of the school day, staff at the facility grew concerned. Hoping to get to the bottom of the mystery, they contacted police, who drove out to the Todds’ home to investigate. And there, officers discovered a truly shocking scene.
Inside the house, police found Brittany badly beaten – and sadly worse was to come. Three of the Todd children should have been at home at the time. However, as officers searched the property, they realized that one of the kids was missing. Indeed, while the younger two children were found unharmed, the oldest, Heidi, was nowhere to be seen.
At 5:50 p.m. that day, Heidi was officially on the record as missing. Subsequently, the South Carolina police force joined forces with the FBI to track the four-year-old down, while the community of Whitney Lake also began to mobilize. In fact, as evening fell on Johns Island, the residents came out in force to look for the little girl.
Yes, although the Todds’ neighbors were shocked that something so sinister had happened in their small community, they were keen to leap into action. “The entire neighborhood just exploded,” resident Alli Hobbs told local paper The Post and Courier in February 2018. “Everyone had a flashlight, dogs. This was an outstanding response.”
Police, meanwhile, attempted to get to the bottom of the strange crime. According to Charleston Interim Police Chief Jerome Taylor, the incident did not appear to be a typical home invasion or burglary. Instead, the officer theorized that Brittany had been attacked by an unwanted visitor when she returned to the house.
Keen to track down the culprit, police released two descriptions of people they wished to speak to in connection with the events. Reportedly, they were both men of Hispanic descent. And while one was described as dressed all in gray, the other was said to have a distinctive tattoo of a flame on the side of his face.
But while the search for Heidi continued, police struggled to find a motive behind the girl’s disappearance. Had the attacker beaten Brittany and abducted the child from her own home? Or had Heidi simply wandered out of the house while her mother lay injured, only to fall victim to an unknown fate?
By the next morning, Heidi still hadn’t been found. But then, more than 270 miles from where the girl had disappeared, two railway employees spotted something strange near the tracks at Riverside, Alabama. Apparently, at around 4:00 p.m., they saw a car parked in a wooded area just off the nearby highway.
According to the employees, the car was sitting too close to the tracks and was in a location only accessible by private road. Even more troubling, though, was what the workers saw when they approached the vehicle. Inside, they spotted a young girl in the front passenger seat with the driver sound asleep beside her.
Concerned, the workers reported what they had seen to the local fire department. And soon, both Fire Chief Tim Kurzejeski and Police Chief Rick Oliver arrived at the scene to take a closer look. Suspecting that something was amiss, they woke up the man and asked him to step out of the vehicle.
When the man subsequently removed Heidi from the car, Oliver grew even more suspicious. Apparently, the young girl was dressed in adult-sized pajamas, with an adult’s hooded sweatshirt over the top. However, the pair still did not know that the child that they had stumbled upon was the missing youngster from South Carolina. Instead, they told the man to wait while they ran his details through the national database.
As it turned out, the man was Thomas Evans, a 37-year-old felon who had only recently been released from prison. With a criminal record dating back to 2000, he had been in trouble with the law on a number of occasions. As well as picking up charges for drug abuse and break-ins, Evans had been arrested for armed burglary back in 2009.
Suspicious, Oliver decided to take Evans into custody. Before the officer had the chance, though, the suspect handed over Heidi and fled. Jumping back behind the wheel of his vehicle, Evans drove onto the highway and escaped. But soon, law enforcement officers and the FBI were in hot pursuit.
Eventually, the team of law enforcers were able to track Evans’ vehicle to the border with Mississippi, where the fugitive was captured by the local police. Heidi, meanwhile, was taken back to the safety of the fire station, where she appeared to be relatively unfazed by her ordeal. “She was just a super trooper,” Kurzejeski told the local press.
Back in Whitney Lake, the worried residents breathed a collective sigh of relief. “What could have been a day of real tragedy has turned out to be a day of great joy,” John Tecklenburg, the mayor of Charleston, was reported as saying. Meanwhile, Heidi was taken to a hospital where she was checked over by medical professionals.
So far, police have been unable to determine Evans’ motive in attacking Brittany and kidnapping her daughter. However, authorities have stated that they believe it may simply have been a random attack. Currently, Evans is being held in prison awaiting his trial, where he will face as many as seven criminal charges.
Two weeks after Heidi’s dramatic abduction, Brittany was released from hospital and allowed to return home. But although things are slowly returning to normal for the Todd family, life in Whitney Lake may never be the same. “I would never guess that something like this would happen,” neighbor Brenda Davison told The Post and Courier. “I’ve never been scared here, and now I’m uneasy. It’s eating me up. It’s just hard to comprehend.”