For more than two years, authorities in a small New York town had gotten tips that a missing 6-year-old girl was with her biological parents there — even though they lost custody in 2019.
But none of the tips proved reliable, until Monday, when someone stepped forward with “valuable information” that allowed police to search the home where Paislee Shultis was found hidden under a staircase, Saugerties Police Chief Joseph A. Sinagra told NBC affiliate WNYT of Albany.
That information "finally gave us the one piece of the puzzle we lacked the last 2½ years," he said. "That was the information we needed to obtain that search warrant. Without obtaining that search warrant, we wouldn't have found that child yesterday."
Sinagra didn't say who provided the tip with detailed information, which investigators corroborated and a judge signed off on.
He also didn't say why Paislee's biological parents, Kirk Shultis Jr., 32, and Kimberly Cooper, 33, lost custody in 2019. A family court had determined that they were "unfit" to be Paislee's custodial parents, he said.
Custody of Paislee and her older sister was given to another relative, Sinagra said, and they lived in Cayuga Heights, roughly three hours west of Saugerties.
Paislee was reported missing July 13, 2019, when she was 4 years old.
When authorities arrived at the biological parents' home Monday, Paislee's father and grandfather, Kirk Shultis Jr., 32, and Kirk Shultis Sr., 57, did as they had done after previous tips prompted police to visit their home, Sinagra said: They denied that Paislee was there.
Some of the earlier encounters had become so adversarial that the Shultises accused authorities of harassing them, Sinagra said.
Investigators nearly ended Monday's search after they concluded that Paislee was likely not inside, Sinagra said.
But after he noticed something odd about a staircase to the basement, Detective Erik Thiele shined a flashlight through the floorboards and saw what appeared to be a blanket, Sinagra said.
"They started ripping the stairs apart and observed two small feet," he said.
Thiele, Sinagra added, was the "hero of the hour."
Also under the staircase was Cooper, Paislee's biological mother, who had a warrant for her arrest in Ulster County, Sinagra said.
Cooper was charged with second-degree custodial interference and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child. The Shultises were charged with one count each of felony of custodial interference in the first degree and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child.
Shultis Jr. and Shultis Sr. were released on their own recognizance, according to police. A message left at a number listed under the Shultises' Saugerties home wasn't returned Tuesday.
Efforts to reach Cooper, who was remanded into custody for the outstanding warrant, were not successful.
Paislee was in good health, although through interviews, Sinagra said, investigators discovered that she hadn't learned to read or write. Police found a bedroom that appeared to belong to Paislee in the home, but she said she be would placed under the stairs every time authorities visited, Sinagra said.
After Monday's discovery, Sinagra said, Paislee was reunited with her sister and legal guardians.