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Kidnapped Florida girl Rebecca Lewis found safe in Memphis, Tennessee

Ky. police searched after reported sighting Monday
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Posted at 7:10 AM, Oct 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-10 16:57:27-04

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - A suspected kidnapper was captured in Memphis and the 4-year-old Florida girl taken from her home Saturday is safe and appears unharmed, authorities said Monday afternoon, ending a two-day ordeal that had Kentucky police on alert.

Kentucky police had searched for the pair Monday morning after a reported sighting in the south-central part of the state near I-75. There was no immediate confirmation that they had been in Kentucky.

The girl, Rebecca Lewis, and the suspect, West Wild Hogs, were spotted in a car outside a Memphis hospital. Police then swarmed the area. Hogs, a former family friend, had stolen his mother's car in Alabama and driven to Florida, where he used to live with Rebecca's family, authorities said.

It was unclear why Hogs took the girl, Polk County (Florida) Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Rebecca did not appear injured, but medical professionals will evaluate her,  Judd said. Then the girl will be reunited with her family.

"I'll probably never let her go," her father, Luther Lewis said, at a new conference.

Before the happy ending, there was tense drama, fear and hostility between authorities after Hogs eluded capture Sunday night in Tennessee.

An Amber Alert was issued in four states after Hogs took Rebecca from her home in Lakeland, Florida, on Saturday, according to Judd.  Judd said Tennessee authorities botched a chance to rescue the girl Sunday night after a park ranger came upon Rebecca and Hogs near the Tennessee-Kentucky border and let them go.

 

West Wild Hogs. (Photo provided by FBI).

Sheriff Judd blamed Tennessee officials for not issuing an Amber Alert in their state when Florida requested it. Tennessee officials said there was no evidence that Rebecca and Hogs were in Tennessee. But several sightings there have since been confirmed.

 "The state of Tennessee chose not to do an Amber Alert when we asked them to," Judd said a press conference on Monday. "Here's a news flash, Tennessee: He was there."

The ranger said he spotted the 2012 Versa between 10-11 p.m. Sunday at Cove Lake State Park and asked the driver what he was doing. Hogs told the ranger that he was waiting for Rebecca's mother to pick her up. The ranger told Hogs the park was closed and that he needed to leave. It wasn't until later that he saw a bulletin about the missing girl.

Surveillance videos show Rebecca and West at a McDonald's, a grocery store and a gas station. In each case, the girl appeared to be OK.

But Hogs may be dangerous, Sheriff Judd implied at the time. Hogs lived with the Lewis family two years ago, but they kicked him out after he pulled a gun on them, the sheriff said.

"It's not like he's taken off with a neighbor kid that he's been like an uncle to," Judd said.

Rebecca's father, who grew up with Hogs, said brain surgery several years ago had affected Hogs’ temperament.

“He’d do crazy things. He would say obnoxious things. He just wasn’t himself after the surgery,” Luther Lewis said.

Hogs is bipolar, suffers from depression and does not have criminal history, WTSP in Tampa reported.

Hogs legally changed his name from Matthew Clark Pybus.

Monday morning, someone reported spotting the stolen car - with Alabama license plate 4JL26 - at Exit 25 along I-75 in northern Whitley County.

This was an update about an hour earlier when police cars swarmed to an exit off I-75: