SMOAKS, S.C. (AP) — Three children reported missing in a swampy area of rural South Carolina were found safe Thursday in a nearby abandoned mobile home following a 17-hour search, Colleton County Sheriff R.A. Strickland said.
"We couldn't ask for anything better to be the outcome than bringing these kids back to safety," Strickland told reporters late Thursday morning, just minutes after the children were found in a closet of the abandoned home about 100 yards from where they had been last seen playing.
The children, ages 2, 3 and 4, were reported missing by family members about 6 p.m. on Wednesday. They live in a hamlet of small and mobile homes near the community of Smoaks, not far from Interstate 95 and about 60 miles northwest of Charleston.
The sheriff said he did not know if the closet in the mobile home was locked but said the area had been searched the previous evening.
"We looked at this area last night. There are some there are certain things I can and can't say. At this point we still don't know exactly what happened. My number one objective was to return them safely," the sheriff said.
He said the children were tired and hungry but otherwise seemed all right. He said investigators had not had a chance to speak to them.
"We're just happy that we have the children back safely," Strickland said.
He said investigators will look into why the earlier search of the area did not turn up the children.
He said between 40 and 60 law enforcement officers and volunteers had helped in the search. A helicopter and an airplane were deployed, and Department of Natural Resources workers assisted on all-terrain vehicles.
While initial reports said that the search was called off at 2 a.m. Thursday and later resumed, the sheriff said officers were out all night searching.
The missing youngsters were identified as 4-year-old Mya Campbell and her 2-year-old sister Shamyra Campbell, and 3-year-old Eugene McTeer, their cousin.
Colleton County Lt. Shane Roberts said the terrain hampered the search.
"It's a very dense area -- a lot of briar thickets. And then there are the low bottoms. With all the rain we have had over the past year it is a very swampy area," he said.