A girl who was 4 years old when she was reported missing in 2019 has been found, police in New York announced Tuesday. Authorities said they discovered Paislee Shultis under a staircase in a home with her non-custodial parents.
Shultis was first reported missing from Cayuga Heights in New York three years ago. At the time, authorities believed she was taken by Kimberly Cooper and Kirk Shultis Jr., her non-custodial parents, the Saugerties Police Department said in a statement.
Police said they obtained a search warrant on Monday for a home in Saugerties after they were told that a child was being held “within a hidden location” at the residence. The owner, who was not identified, told police he did not know where the child was, saying he hadn’t seen her since she went missing in 2019.
An hour into the search, an officer was looking at a staircase in the back of the house that led to the basement and noticed “the construction of the steps were odd,” the statement said. Upon further inspection, he saw what he thought was a blanket between the wooden steps. Officers removed several of the boards and found the child and Cooper in what they called “a makeshift room” under the staircase, the statement said. Police described it as a small, cold and wet space.
Paislee Shultis was taken to police headquarters, examined by paramedics and determined to be in good health. She was then returned to her legal guardian and reunited with her older sister.
Cooper, 33, was charged with second degree custodial interference and endangering the welfare of a child. She was arraigned in Saugerties and then taken to the Ulster County Jail, where the Ulster County Family Court had an active arrest warrant for her, the statement said.
Kirk Shultis Jr., 32, and Kirk Shultis Sr., 57, were both charged with the felony of custodial interference in the first degree and with endangering the welfare of a child, which is a misdemeanor. They were arraigned and have since been released on their own recognizance.
Stay-away orders were issued by the court against all three suspects, police said.
Neighbors were stunned that the missing little girl had been in the home all along.
“I’m just shocked, because they seemed like regular people,” Annette Wrolsen told CBS New York.
Police said they had been to the house where the child was found several times after she was reported missing while following other leads. However, authorities say that the residents told them they did not know anything about her disappearance, and both Shultis Jr. and Shultis Sr. previously allowed them to conduct limited searches of the home “knowing the child and her abductor were hidden within the house and would not be found.”
Police say their investigation into the incident is ongoing.