An Effingham County woman was arrested Friday after her 3-year-old son wandered from home for the second time in four days.
Jessica Leann Ekern, 33, was charged with second-degree cruelty to children. She is being held at the Effingham County Jail.
A driver passing by saw the child walking down Bluff Drive on Friday morning. He recognized the boy as the same one who had been found following a search Tuesday and called the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, said ECSO spokesman Detective David Ehsanipoor.
The sheriff’s office investigated and called in the Department of Family and Children’s Services prior to speaking with Ekern about her missing son, according to Ehsanipoor.
“It had been about two hours, and she didn’t even realize he was gone,” he said.
It was the ECSO’s second visit that week to Ekern’s home in Eden’s Foxbow Farms subdivision. They had been called there around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday on a report of a missing child.
“We were initially told he had been gone for about half an hour,” Ehsanipoor said, “but we learned he had been missing since about 8 or 8:30.”
The boy was found safe, deep in the woods behind his home. When searchers located the child, he had been missing “for a total of about three or four hours,” according to Ehsanipoor.
The mother apparently had fallen asleep after her older children left for school. Investigators believe the 3-year-old, wearing his pajamas, followed family dogs into the woods.
“There’s a pattern here — that’s what warranted the criminal charges,” Ehsanipoor said. “There’s a problem when a child has been gone for two or three hours without a parent even noticing the child is missing.”
Deputies and K-9 unit bloodhounds searched on the ground while helicopters from two different agencies flew overhead. Ehsanipoor estimated that “tens of thousands of dollars” were spent on the manpower, search dogs and air support to find the child.
“Of course we would do it again if anyone lost their kids,” he said. “But we’re asking people to be responsible.”