(As originally published with videos and more photos, Fri, December 30th 2022, 9:40 PM EST)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (TND/WGFL) — A missing 13-year-old boy has been found, his grandparents are under arrest, and details of the boy’s troubled childhood are emerging.
Ean Stephens of Gainesville, Florida, disappeared Friday, Dec. 23, and police grew concerned because of colder temperatures.
Two days later, a police spokesperson said authorities caught their big break when a detective saw Ean in surveillance video from outside a business in another county.
Monday, David Chudzik told WGFL, “That led us to a witness that didn’t have a consistent story. So yesterday on Christmas day, we got a warrant and went to the house and talked to the person at which point she admitted that she knew where the child was at a different location and led us to him.”
He was found safe and unharmed in Clay County, northwest of Gainesville.
The witness, 40-year-old Tiffany Mejia, was charged with tampering with evidence, interference with child custody, and multiple felony drug offenses.
But she’s not the only person in big trouble with the law.
A man claiming to be the boy’s second cousin, who WGFL identified as Brad Burns, alleged the teen had been bounced around different family members’ homes for years, and Ean’s grandfather would often take him.
“For whatever reason, Tommy showed up one day and just took Ean,” Brad said. “Ean didn’t even get his stuff, his belongings. He just took him in his pajamas, he took off with him. He does that, he’ll keep Ean for a year or two until he can’t handle it no more.”
Ean’s grandparents have been identified as Tommy Stephens, 55, and Jamie Stephens, 43.
They were arrested on Christmas and they’re each charged with child neglect and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Brad told WGFL the grandparents are to blame for Ean’s disappearance.
“I think Jamie and Tommy need to be held accountable for the things they’ve done,” he said.
Neighbor Chaz Bonamie told WGFL he knew the three suspects.
He said about Tommy Stephens, “I talked to him a lot. He seemed like a normal good guy. I don’t know; it’s all confusing to me. They were all good people.”
Bonamie also refuted Brad’s claim, “He’s not been in school since he was like the 2nd or 3rd grade.”
According to the neighbor, “I didn’t notice he didn’t go to school. I never saw, I never noticed anything like that and he didn’t seem like he wasn’t. He seemed smart.”
Ean is now in the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families.