One of the county’s most extensive manhunts in recent history came to an end Friday afternoon inside a vacant building in Atascadero.
That’s where 4-year-old Jeremy Guthrie was found alone, scared and seemingly unharmed.
Jeremy had been snatched from his mother in the early morning inside a local homeless shelter where they’d been staying.
For nearly 12 hours, it seemed much of San Luis Obispo County was scouring the North County trying to locate the 4-year-old and his alleged kidnapper, Annette Hale, a 52-year-old homeless woman who’d been staying at the shelter.
Soon after the boy was found, police arrested Hale, who authorities believed called to tell them she’d left the boy in a former Ford dealership on San Anselmo Road in Atascadero.
“I was so afraid they wouldn’t find him. I was praying for him,” said Katrina Leland, an Atascadero resident.
News that the child had been located spread quickly around the city, where many of the residents took part in the search. More than 100 volunteers helped look for the boy, and the city of Atascadero even shut down so employees could take part. Sixty-six law enforcement personnel were also involved in the search.
Authorities said Jeremy was abducted by Hale, who’d been staying at the shelter for about a week.
Jeremy’s mother had met Hale at the ECHO (El Camino Homeless Organization) shelter at First Baptist Church, said Stephen Gesell, Atascadero’s acting police chief.
“They had spent some time together at the shelter and had an argument,” he said after a news conference Friday afternoon. The substance of the argument — which happened Thursday evening — was unknown.
About 4:30 a.m. Friday, Hale reportedly abducted Jeremy and left the shelter. A door alarm sounded, and police said a witness reported hearing a boy say, “I don’t want to go.”
Gesell said Hale left a note near the pillow where Jeremy’s mother was sleeping, but he wouldn’t say what it said. Gesell described it as rambling and containing biblical references that would be “indicative of someone not quite all there.”
Police received a report of Jeremy’s disappearance about 6 or 6:30 a.m. and are looking into why it wasn’t reported sooner.
Before Jeremy was found and Hale was arrested, Gesell said the last credible sighting of her was around 5:30 a.m. Friday at San Anselmo and El Camino Real in Atascadero by a Circle K convenience store clerk.
About 5 p.m. Friday, Gesell said they received a phone call from an anonymous woman, who they believed was the kidnapper. The woman said the boy was “inside the old Ford dealership.”
Minutes later, officers spotted Jeremy inside the building. He was taken to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton to be evaluated and reunited with his mother, LaToya Logan.
About 15 minutes after the boy was located, two Atascadero State Hospital police officers spotted Hale hiding in some nearby bushes. Hale was taken into custody without incident and booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail. She is charged with felony kidnapping. Bail is set at $1 million.
It’s unknown how long Jeremy and his mother had been staying at the shelter, or whether they are from the area.
Gesell said Hale has a criminal record, but it consists mostly of petty crimes, and she “does not show a propensity for violence.”
Hale has spent a lot of time in San Luis Obispo County, particularly the city of San Luis Obispo, officials said. Her driver’s license lists her address as a post office box in Sacramento.