A 5-year-old girl missing since Thanksgiving, when the body of her mother was discovered at their residence in South Carolina, was found safe Friday, authorities said.
The fate of 5-year-old Aspen Jeter was especially concerning because she's unable to speak and has difficulty moving on her own: She lives with a rare medical condition known as Neurodevelopmental Disorder with or without Autistic Features and/or Structural Brain Abnormalities, her family said.
"Aspen is fine, and —she’s okay," Orangeburg County, South Carolina, Sheriff Leroy Ravenell announced at a news conference Friday. "Thank god for that."
Her mother, Crystal Jumper, was found fatally shot, her body laying on a bed, just after noon on Thanksgiving after sheriff's deputies conducted a welfare check on her residence in Orangeburg, South Carolina, authorities said.
Her brother, Pauley Jumper, told NBC affiliate WIS of Columbia he hadn't heard from his sister since Nov. 1.
Authorities soon realized Aspen, as well as her father, Antar Jeter, were missing. They launched a search and publicized the girl's plight, distributing photos of the child.
A cousin of Crystal Jumper said the father and the child lived at the residence where the mother was found, according to WIS. The father was there temporarily because electricity was not functioning at his residence, the cousin said, according to the station.
It's not clear if the child was present as her mother's body went undiscovered for days if not weeks.
On Thursday evening, electronic financial transactions such as purchases or ATM withdrawals helped authorities track down Antar Jeter, 46, who was in the area of Danville, Virginia, Ravenell said.
The transaction information was delayed, the sheriff said, but Danville police, with the help of the U.S. Marshals Service, were able to conduct surveillance, locate, identify and arrest Antar Jeter while they took custody of the girl, the Danville department said in a statement.
The sheriff said the two were found in the parking lot of a hospital in Danville. It's not clear why they were there, he said.
Authorities allege the 2015 Mazda 6 Antar Jeter was driving was stolen. And Friday morning, before the arrest, the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office obtained a murder warrant in Antar Jeter's name in connection with Crystal Jumper's demise.
Danville police said in a statement they are holding the father for allegedly being a fugitive from justice. Extradition to South Carolina was expected.
It wasn't clear if Antar Jeter has retained legal counsel. The public defender's office in Orangeburg County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ravenell did not say if detectives have unearthed a motive in the alleged murder. He said investigators aren't exactly sure when she was killed.
"Sometime before Thanksgiving Day," the sheriff said. "I'm not sure the exact day."
Justin Bamberg, a lawyer hired by Crystal Jumper's family, expressed their relief and gratitude during the news conference Friday.
"We can't thank you enough," he said, indicating the sheriff, his troops, and other authorities who tracked the child down. "It's a joyous moment, but it's a sad moment as well."
Bamberg said Aspen probably doesn't fully understand what's been going on in her life. Asked about her fate, he said the family's goal is to keep her in the hands of relatives in South Carolina and away from Child Protective Services.
"Aspen will not become a ward of the state," the lawyer said. "We’re going to make sure that she’s with family."