After two-year-old Charlee Campbell and her dog, Penny, had been missing for almost two days, the search-and-rescue teams must have feared the worst. The little girl was presumably out in the open in extremely hazardous surroundings with just a pit bull for company. But then Charlee's would-be rescuers spotted Penny ambling up to a porch — and found out the case was about to be solved.
Charlee's grandmother is Beth Campbell. She had custody of Charlee at her home in the city of Lebanon Junction in Kentucky. And the community certainly sticks together. In fact, Charlee’s disappearance sparked a large-scale police search that was aided by around 100 volunteers. The search party focused the majority of their efforts on an area of woodland near the little girl’s home. But Charlee was nowhere to be seen.
Brief signs of hope
A day after the tot had gone missing, police investigations took a worrying turn when four sniffer dogs involved in the search for the little girl seemed to show an interest in something. The dogs were sniffing around a pool on the family’s property, but the search there eventually drew a blank. And there was something else bothering the police department.
Sheriff casts doubt
Bullitt County Sheriff Donnie Tinnell's major concern was the woods around the Campbell home. Looking at it, he didn't believe that it would be possible for a small girl to trek through the many hills or the rugged ground. In fact, he said a fully fit fireman had trouble searching the same area. And that wasn't all.
Covering lost ground
The other question preying on the sheriff's mind was, simply, why hadn't they found the little girl yet? She was just one person, and they dozens of people searching the same area again and again and again. They even had search dogs combing the area. It just didn't make any sense. But then there were several things that didn't make sense to the law enforcement professional.
Something seemed wrong
First off, the time element seemed off to him. In the course of the investigation, the authorities discovered that Beth had woken at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday to find that her granddaughter was not in her home. And the first thing she did was get on the phone with her husband, Robert, at his place of business. Neither of them called the police.
The time problem
In fact, Sheriff Tinnell expressed surprise when he learned that it wasn't until 10:55 a.m. that someone decided to get in touch with the authorities. That meant that 85 minutes passed between someone discovering Charlee's disappearance and someone calling the cops. The sheriff said the only explanation Beth gave was that she “got busy and distracted.”
Fighting for the child
Sheriff Tinnell actually seemed just as interested in the Campbells as he was with the ongoing search outside of the property. At the time, you see, the sheriff believed that there was an acrimonious custody battle being fought between Beth Campbell and Natalie Campbell — Charlee's biological mother. The biological father was out of the picture.
Charlee's condition — and other problems
Part of the problem may have been that doctors had found that Charlee was on the autism spectrum. The child apparently couldn't speak as well as she may have been expected to, either. And on top of all of this, there was a very real and very present problem with Natalie's husband, Charles Quick.
Making an arrest
According to Sheriff Tinnell, the police felt that Charles was being overly aggressive or hostile after the officers arrived at the house. This was still in the early stages of the investigation. It got so bad that the police decided to run a background check — and found out that Charles had an outstanding warrant in Florida. So the officers placed Charles under arrest and took him downtown.
But Charles wasn't the only family member who alerted the suspicions of the police. It turned out that the authorities weren't about to rule out anybody as a potential cause of the disappearance of the little girl. In fact, the police started looking into the activity of each family's member cell phone — just in case one of them was involved.
Search and seize
The Bullitt County authorities also conducted a thorough search of the Campbell residence. Because while Beth was telling the police that Charlee was not on the property, it seemed that Sheriff Tinnell was not willing to take her word for it. And even after Tinnell's deputies had had a concentrated look around the house, the FBI later wanted to conduct their own search.
Charlee must have been missing for around 32 hours at this point. Erik Butler, the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department chief, was present when the FBI conducted their own search of the Campbell property. And while this search would also turn out to be fruitless, it was far from the end of the story. In fact, it was then that the investigation had a breakthrough.
Penny the pit bull
While Butler was at the address a dog turned up at the house — and the canine in question was the Campbell family’s pit bull, Penny. At that point, it was believed the animal may have been with Charlee. So, the fire chief decided to call it in. And that's when he learned some more good news.
Given Penny’s sudden appearance, Butler hoped that Charlee was also in the vicinity. And after he called Bullitt County Sheriff Tinnell, he found out that his prayers had been answered. Yes, the toddler was safe and well. Charlee had in fact been found just 500 yards from her grandparents’ home. This had happened at almost the exact same that Penny had been found.
Into the woods
Charlee had apparently walked out of the woods around her grandparents’ home onto her neighbor Wayne Brown’s porch. A father of two himself, Wayne told WLKY he “had been sitting on [his] couch and asking God to please let somebody find her.” And by a major coincidence, it was Brown who happened to find the lost girl.
Little Charlee was found in the Frozen pajama top that she had reportedly been wearing when she'd disappeared. However, she was no longer wearing her diaper or her pajama bottoms. The little girl was also scratched, dirty, and covered in ticks. She was so dehydrated that Wayne said she quickly downed a bottle and a half of water.
Unable to speak
The neighbor also noted that Charlee was rather quiet. Wayne told WDRB, “She handed me this bottle. And I said, ‘Are you Charlee?’ She didn’t answer me. She wouldn’t say anything.” According to those on the scene, the only thing that Charlee did utter was the word “puppy” after she was reunited with her dog, Penny.
Given the timings of the reappearances of both Penny and Charlee, some people believed that Penny had stayed by Charlee’s side for the whole time the toddler was missing. Some even thought the animal may have saved the child’s life by watching over her in the woods. But for the authorities, the timeline only proved to be more suspicious.
At a press conference three days after Charlee's reappearance, Sheriff Tinnell told reporters that the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the dog and the child were hinky. They both appeared right around the time the FBI had finished searching Beth’s house, after all. Could those events have been connected? For the veteran police officer, the answer just had to be yes.
Not looking good
Tinnell said, "[The dog] didn't come home until Friday evening, and [the dog] shows up at the house at the same time she shows up at the house up on the top of the hill, and it's a good distance apart. So how did that happen and why did that happen? It's really suspicious to me." But that wasn't all he found odd.
"There's a custody issue between mother and grandmother, [and] I suspect maybe there's something going on we don't know about yet," the sheriff told reporters. "The little girl had scratches on her feet, dirty feet, and ticks on her, and she was in those woods for some period of time. It didn't indicate to me that she was there for 36 hours."
The sheriff noted that even though the neighbor Wayne Brown had apparently given the girl a bottle and a half of water, that wasn't the whole story. He said Charlee actually vomited up the water after Wayne had given it to her. Tinnell also revealed that Charlee had vomited a further three times when he himself had offered her water.
The fact that Charlee was not wearing her diaper or her pajama bottoms when Wayne discovered her on his porch was also a cause for concern, according to Tinnell. It was doubly worrying when search crews went back through the Campbell residence and the surrounding areas looking for the items — and came back empty-handed. Tinnell was clearly not satisfied.
Local praise for the hero pup
But among those to sing Penny’s praises was Charlee’s grandmother Beth. Speaking about the dog, Beth later told WIS-TV, “When my dog didn’t come home, and my baby wasn’t home, she was not going to leave that baby until she got here.” This wasn't enough to put Tinnell's reservations to rest, of course.
Sheriff Tinnell did express some kind of astonishment that Charlee could have survived almost two days in the wilderness. He told WAVE 3, “There’s coyotes in them hills. There’s copperheads and rattlesnakes and ticks — all the elements. And somehow she came out in pretty good shape.” Then again, Tinnell was probably also casting doubt on the story.
After all, Tinnell also stated that he was particularly confused as to how responders could have missed Charlee and Penny. This was despite searching the area that they had emerged from around six times, remember. “That big dog [Penny], because he’s huge, and that child looks like it would be hard to miss,” he said. But he did offer one possible explanation.
Tinnell said, “It might be a circumstance where she got tired and laid down and went to sleep for hours on end — behind a stump or behind a tree or who knows what, a big rock. It’s possible to overlook, I guess, if the dog laid down with her.” But it seems clear that the sheriff didn't really believe that was what had happened.
And because there were so many questions surrounding the child’s disappearance, Child Protective Services stepped in to take custody of her. In the meantime, the police and five FBI agents quizzed Charlee’s family members in a bid to establish the circumstances around her vanishing. But after these initial sessions, nobody was placed under arrest. That would soon change.
Family fighting back
Despite these allegations, Charlee’s great-grandmother Lisa Chesher told WAVE 3 that there was nothing untoward about the tot’s disappearance. “She has just learned to unlock the deadbolt,” Lisa explained. Beth also told reporters from WAVE 3 that "accidents happen." She said, "It's not because this baby is not well taken care of and loved." But Tinnell wasn't done with the family yet.
Beth Campbell was actually charged with endangering the welfare of a minor in the almost immediate aftermath of the disappearance. The grandmother had allegedly “admitted to using meth while she was watching/caring” for the child. Tinnell also believed that Beth's cousin had been using the illegal substance. However, the case against Beth was swiftly dropped — although this would be far from the end of the story.
Charges dropped — for the first time
What happened? Well, on the very same day that Beth was placed under arrest, the police were forced to drop the charges against her. But it was only on a technicality. You see, Beth's defense attorney successfully pointed out that the Bullitt County Sheriff's Department had not followed the exact procedural process that must be used to charge Beth in this case.
Need a witness
The particular problem was the nature of the criminal act. The police were charging Beth with "endangering the welfare of a minor" — but this required a specific procedure. In fact, the police would've had to have witnessed the endangerment to take the perpetrator into custody. And if they didn't witness it, the authorities had to apply to the county attorney's office to make the charge stick.
Under arrest again
The result was that the authorities had to drop that initial case and then go through the proper channels. Then, almost two months after Charlee had been discovered in a neighbor's backyard, the police were charging Beth again with endangering the welfare of a minor. Tinnell and his team issued the summons on August 6, 2018.
The nature of the crime
The criminal summons that the authorities handed to Beth repeated the allegation that she had been using an illegal substance the evening before Charlee apparently went missing. It also revealed that a witness had told the cops that this hadn't been the only time that Charlee had wandered away from Beth's home. Beth was to appear in court later that month.
A court of law
It's worth noting that endangering the welfare of a minor is a misdemeanor crime in Kentucky. Yet while the court case was due to take place at the end of August 2018, we have been unable to find the final verdict. But we do that whatever the outcome of this case, it cannot be argued that dogs are loyal creatures that love unconditionally and never judge. There are many examples of this — but the most striking one involved a dog called Saki.
Saki the stray
It all started when Saki was a stray puppy roaming around Sacramento, California. Here, she was found by a lady and brought to the attention of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. And on noticing the young dog’s cleverness and temperament, the organization reckoned that Saki could become a great service dog.
So Saki was temporarily housed with a lady called Dennie — a service-dog trainer — and her family for a preliminary training period. It turned out, however, that the dog wasn’t that enamored by her new regime. This was strange, though, because the young German shepherd was bright, active, and had a great nose. She was basically perfect for the job. But there was one thing preventing Saki from becoming a great rescue dog: a young boy with blond ringlets.
The boy was six-year-old Danny Mangold, who lived across the road from Dennie with his adoptive family. Danny had faced many struggles already in his short life. Indeed, he had severely delayed development, though the doctors could not pinpoint exactly why.
Trouble at home
It turned out that Florida-born Danny’s illiterate father was just 17 when Danny was born, so he had been unable to take care of him. Therefore, Danny, at just six months old, was adopted by friends-of-friends Dixie Morgan and her husband at the time, Dan. Back then, little Danny couldn’t eat solid food or hold his head up, and everything came slower to him. He had trouble forming words, for instance, and he took longer than normal to crawl and, eventually, walk.
“It’s frustrating because every parent hopes her child will excel,” Dixie would later tell the Los Angeles Times in 1999. “So we coached him, we urged him, we encouraged him. But we knew from the first time we met him that he had problems.”
Danny started attending a special education program after his first birthday to help with his development. By the age of five, however, the little boy was still lagging behind his classmates. He couldn’t speak in whole sentences, and he was unable to use the toilet by himself.
A new family
It was around this time that Dixie separated from Dan and moved to Ojai with Danny and his two older adopted siblings. Dixie then ended up marrying her old high-school flame, who went on to become a father figure to the three adopted kids.
So the Morgan family became neighbors to Dennie, who was by this time training — or at least attempting to train — Saki. Little did the Morgans know, however, that this once-stray pooch would soon become a big part of their lives.
In fact, Saki was so curious about her new neighbors that she began escaping her yard every day and going to see them. And when Dennie went to retrieve her, she found that the dog had made a beeline for Danny. No one could have expected what would happen when Saki and Danny met; it was as if they struck up an instant bond.
Danny and Saki quickly became close friends, with the pair regularly playing catch and taking naps together. “I was touched by the way Saki and Danny connected,” Dixie told the Los Angeles Times. “Socially, he doesn’t always interact effectively with his peers. But he did with the dog. Saki understood him. They understood each other.”
The pair understood each other so well that their relationship began to have a noticeable effect on Danny. Just a week after him meeting Saki, in fact, the boy’s speech started improving. His motor skills also improved as he threw balls for the dog. Danny even began using the toilet.
In fact, Danny soon became able to talk in complete sentences. “This is my puppy,” he began to say. “I am Saki’s dad.” Dixie was skeptical at first that this was down to the dog’s influence. But after the two spent more time together it became clear that Saki was indeed a special — and influential — dog.
Dixie therefore reached out to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation to see if Danny could keep the dog, but the answer was not encouraging. Good search dogs are hard to find; the foundation might test up to 50 dogs before finding the right one for the job. And Saki was displaying all the requisite attributes.
The dog herself, though, was clearly happy where she was — and, of course, she was working by helping to fast-forward Danny’s development. So Dixie decided to invite the foundation’s president, Wilma Melville, to come and see their special relationship for herself.
A real use
After seeing Danny and Saki together, Melville made the decision to release Saki from the program. “To let the dog go, it was not easy,” she explained to the Los Angeles Times. “But we decided that the dog had a real use here. She and Danny made a very heartwarming attachment.”
Together for good
What’s more, this attachment only grew stronger once Danny and Saki were together for good. The boy reveled in taking responsibility for the dog’s care: in addition to feeding her, he brushed her coat and gave the pooch a pillow for her head at night.
It’s Saki, however, who’s given Danny the greatest gift of all. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, the boy’s older sister Cecily described it best. She said, “You know how a butterfly can’t live without his wings? That’s how it is for them.”