Two days into the search for missing two-year-old Charlee Campbell and her dog, Penny, the authorities were no doubt fearing the worst. The little girl was presumably out in the open in extremely hazardous surroundings with only a pit bull for company. But then out of the blue, rescuers spotted the dog amble up to a porch — but instead of answers, the dog's appearance sparked a slew of unsettling questions.
Charlee's grandmother is Beth Campbell. She had custody of Charlee at her home in Lebanon Junction in Kentucky. And the community certainly sticks together. Charlee’s disappearance sparked a large-scale police search that was aided by around 100 volunteers. The search party focused most 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 primary concern was the woods around the Campbell home. Looking at it, he didn't believe it would be possible for a small girl to trek through the many hills or the rugged ground. 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, 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, several things didn't make sense to the law enforcement professional.
Something seemed wrong
First off, the time element seemed off to him. During 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
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 Beth's only explanation was that she "got busy and distracted."
Fighting for the child
Sheriff Tinnell seemed just as interested in the Campbells as he was in the ongoing search outside the property. At the time, the sheriff believed that an acrimonious custody battle was being fought between Beth Campbell and Natalie Campbell — Charlee's biological mother. So the birth father was out of the picture.
Charlee's condition — and other problems
The problem may have been that doctors had found that Charlee was on the autism spectrum. In addition, the child apparently couldn't speak as well as she was expected to, either. And on top of all of this, there was a genuine and 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 little girl's disappearance. 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 Beth was telling the police that Charlee was not on the property, it seemed that Sheriff Tinnell was unwilling 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 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 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. 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 Charlee was also in the vicinity. And after he called Bullitt County Sheriff Tinnell, he discovered his prayers had been answered. Yes, the toddler was safe and well. Charlee had been found just 500 yards from her grandparents’ home. This had happened at almost the same time that Penny had been found.
Into the woods
Charlee had 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 significant coincidence, it was Brown who happened to find the lost girl.
Little Charlee was found in the Frozen pajama top she had reportedly been wearing when she disappeared. However, she was no longer wearing her diaper or her pajama bottoms. The little girl was also scratched, dirty, and covered in ticks. In addition, 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 relatively 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 uttered was the word “puppy” after reuniting 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 when the FBI had finished searching Beth's house. 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 given the girl a bottle and a half of water, that wasn't the whole story. He said Charlee vomited up the water after Wayne had given it to her. Tinnell also revealed that Charlee had vomited more than three times when he offered her water.
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. So 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 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 are coyotes in them hills. There are copperheads and rattlesnakes and ticks — all the elements. And somehow, she came out in pretty good shape.” But then again, Tinnell was probably also casting doubt on the story.
After all, Tinnell also stated that he was baffled about how responders could have missed Charlee and Penny. This was despite searching the area 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 a tree or who knows what, a big rock. So it’s possible to overlook, I guess, if the dog laid down with her." But it seems clear that the sheriff didn't 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 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." But, 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 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. 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 charged Beth with "endangering the welfare of a minor," — but this required a specific procedure. The police would've had to have witnessed the endangerment to take the perpetrator into custody. And if they didn't see it, the authorities had to apply to the county attorney's office to make the charge stick.
Under arrest again
The authorities had to drop that initial case and go through the proper channels. Then, almost two months after Charlee had been discovered in a neighbor's backyard, the police charged 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 Beth repeated the allegation that she had been using an illegal substance the evening before Charlee went missing. It also revealed that a witness had told the cops that this hadn't been the only time Charlee had wandered away from Beth's home. Beth was to appear in court later that month.
A court of law
Yet while the court case was due to take place at the end of August 2018, we could not access the final verdict. Whatever the outcome, it was a small comfort that Charlee had her dog, who not only looked after the toddler but even led authorities to rescue her safely. Still, the local precinct couldn't help but note that the case was oddly reminiscent of a search for another individual lost in the wilderness.
A secret weapon
While Penny the pitbull was the hero of Charlee's story, a police canine named Heiko stole the spotlight in a case over in Pennsylvania. Of course, Heiko was cuddling up to the good guys when he wasn't taking down criminals. But the dog's keen instincts proved essential to the Marysville Police Department as they searched for a missing hiker, and time was rapidly running out.
Something was wrong
The location, Port Huron State Game Area, provided plenty of obstacles in their search. About 15 miles from Marysville, the preserve is a perfect place for hiking, fishing, or simply enjoying nature. But something was clearly wrong when there was no sign of a hiker who'd set off on the trail hours before.
The local hunter had gotten lost inside the game area. While he was able to contact a friend and call for help, he didn't know how to find his way out of the forest. He'd wandered in circles, desperate for a way out — and for someone to rescue him.
Into the woods
Thankfully, Heiko and Officer Reeves were on the case! The pair headed to the preserve and set out down the path that the hunter took into the forest. Slowly, they walked into the darkness. Officer Reeves held onto Heiko's leash, confident that the highly trained K9 would lead the way.
Picking up the scent
The woods seemed endless, but the pair had been in similar situations. Before long, Heiko tugged at his leash, and sure sign that he'd picked up the missing man's scent. “I just kind of let the dog lead the way,” Reeves explained.
One more problem
After what seemed like an eternity walking through the darkness, the pair heard something. It was a voice — the lost hunter! The rescue wasn't carried out smoothly, however. There was a problem even Heiko couldn't easily solve.
Extra help required
While Heiko would ordinarily rush to his target, the dog couldn't make it through the game area's thick underbrush. Someone else would have to physically reach the formerly missing man — and quick. The winter air only got colder as each minute passed.
Thankfully, Reeves and Heiko weren't working alone. They were supported by the Clyde Township Fire Department, St. Clair County Sheriff Department and St. Clair County Central Dispatch. In a rescue effort, collaboration is key. Every well-trained officer, K9 or human, knows that!
Out of the woods
While Heiko couldn't reach the hunter, Clyde Township firefighters were able to make their way to the man. After a harrowing night in the woodlands, he slowly started making his way to safety — with a newly-invigorated Heiko leading the way.
Learning the hard way
The rescue effort couldn't have worked without the loyal canine. Heiko has found his calling as a police dog, but officer Reeves explained that that is even more extraordinary than it may sound. Not every canine has what it takes to work in law enforcement. In fact, many dogs that are born and bred for the job still don't make the cut.
Big plans for gavel
Reeves went on to explain that a sister police department in Australia brought in a German Shepherd puppy named Gavel to train as a K-9 dog. At just six weeks old, he caught the eyes of the Queensland Police, as they saw great potential in the bright-eyed and agile pup.
Ready to serve
Little Gavel was determined to be granted acceptance into the Queensland Dog Squad, as he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his family members. He had a 16-month training program ahead of him, and he was ready to track down some bad guys.
The right stuff
Not only was Gavel hoping to make the force proud, but he wanted to make his foster handlers proud, too. There were more than just a few pounds on this pup's shoulders, as Gavel had people counting on him. The officers were confident he had the right stuff for the lawful job.
"He is confident, with no nervous tendencies and shows willingness to retrieve, a prey drive, ball drive and can be motivated by food for a reward," the impressed Queensland Sergeant Hansen gushed in a press release. By this point, it seemed that Gavel was going to be a star student.
Before he started his training, though, he made a highly anticipated debut to the public in 2016. He accompanied Governor Paul de Jersey and his wife at a function dedicated to honoring the Queen's 90th birthday.
It was a big day for little Gavel, as he met an aggregation of important human officials, such as politicians, judges, business and community leaders, and former governors. One of these big-wigs in particular took a liking to Gavel.
Just getting started
Former Governor Mary Marguerite "Leneen" Forde couldn't keep her hands off of the warm Gavel, which is no surprise considering she owned many German Shepherds as a Fernberg resident. However, Gavel's engagement with prestigious government officials was just getting started.
Friends in high places
Usually, puppers-in-training are fostered by a fellow Queensland Police officer, but Gavel was a bit different. In an unusual turn of events, it was decided he would reside with Governor de Jersey and his wife at the Government House.
Gavel was different
Governor de Jersey made sure to give Gavel a proper tour of his new illustrious home, as well as assist in familiarizing the Shepherd with new people, considering his boot camp training was to start soon. This is when a different side of Gavel emerged.
A big ol' softie
Gavel proved to be a big ol' softie. He'd take resting breaks, play with toys, and stride through the flowers. Gavel got lost in his own downtime, which caused people to raise an eyebrow and wonder how he'd perform on the squad.
The official training began with month's worth of socialization and obedience practice. As expected, this was not an easy task for the playful Shepherd. At 10 weeks old, Gavel still had heaps of uncontrollable puppy energy, which was slightly concerning for a police recruit.
Maybe he'll mature?
Governor de Jersey disclosed to 7NEWS Brisbane that, at this point, Gavel was still not sleeping through the entirety of the night. Still, no one was ready to give up on Gavel, as they figured his maturity milestone was waiting just around the corner.
Cut from the program
As the months went by, that maturity milestone seemed further and further away. Gavel never rounded that monumental bend. It was a tough decision, but the Queensland Police reluctantly decided to cut innocent Gavel from the program.
No crime fighting for Gavel...
In a statement released by the Queensland Police, they declared that Gavel "did not display the necessary aptitude for a life on the front line." It was a shock to everyone who fell in love with the pooch, but fighting crime just wasn't in the cards for him.
In February of 2017, the Queensland Police officially discharged Gavel from his training, with graduation just six months away. Subsequently, the question that haunted nearly everyone down under was: What was to come of poor Gavel?
Gavel's true calling
All things considered, he was still staying with the Governor of Queensland, which allowed Gavel to live regally. Could it be that he was paired with Governor Paul de Jersey for a reason? Apparently, Gavel's true calling was closer than he thought.
Gavel, Australia's Vice-Regal Dog
On February 21, 2017, Gavel was given a new title: Australia's first-ever Vice-Regal Dog. The regal family knew he was destined for a more sociable and compassionate position, one that didn't involve sniffing out the bad guys.
"He has outgrown four ceremonial coats, undergone a career change... and brought untold joy to the lives of the governor, Mrs. de Jersey, Government House staff, and the thousands of Queenslanders who have since visited the estate," the Governor's office raved.
To be clear, as a VRD, Gavel still had some important daily duties to conquer. He was always a gracious host to guests and entertained (played with) tour groups that attended the Government House.
A very special dog
"He wears a specially-made Government House coat, emblazoned with the Governor's Personal Standard, the St. Edward's Crown and the brolga, the official bird emblem of Queensland," the Government House disclosed. Gavel wore the specially-made coat with pride.
In case you're doubting the legitimacy of Gavel's role in Australia's Government House, he even had to, um, "sign," a contract. It is still a legal process, after all! At the end of the day, Gavel excels at something other dogs struggle to achieve...
Gavel finds his place
Gavel is great at earning adoring fans from all around the world! Gavel's story has even taken off in the form of the children's book Gavel Finds His Place, which follows Gavel from his promising police pup years to his current status as Vice-Regal Dog of Queensland.