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Local authorities believe a missing 5-year-old child may be in danger due to the mental condition of the woman he was last seen with, according to investigators from the Smith County Sheriff’s Office.
Zechariah Sutton, age 5, was killed according to Sgt. Larry Christian. The Texas Department of Public Safety issued an AMBER alert this morning, calling it child abduction.
Christian said the child’s grandmother, who is his legal guardian, allowed a “family friend” Pamala Evonne Medlock, 59, to take him from home to shop for toys. Neither have been seen in person since, although investigators are working on some leads thanks to camera footage.
Zachariah is described as a black male who is 3ft 5 tall, weighs around 60 to 70 pounds and was last seen wearing a gray sweatshirt with black and white shoes.
Medlock is described as a black woman, 5ft 6, medium height, with rows of corn, according to the Smith County Sheriff’s Office. According to Railsback, she was last seen in a black t-shirt, baggy khaki pants and a tan plaid jacket. She has no fixed abode but frequently visits the Overton and Kilgore areas. She also visits the Valero convenience store in Overton. According to Christian, she drives a black 2007 Jeep Wrangler 4-door with license plate RVZ5847.
Authorities believe Zachariah may be in danger due to Medlock’s mental condition, Christian said during a news conference Monday morning. Law enforcement in Rusk, Gregg and Smith counties report that Medlock has a history of using narcotics and may have mental health issues. The family did not speak out about mental health or drug issues, according to Smith County Sgt., and had no red flags about medlock as of Monday morning. Jason Railback.
“Just to be clear, we do not believe at this point that Ms. Medlock would harm the child,” Christian said. “It’s more of an awkward thing that she could drag him into, especially if she’s having some sort of episode, and even with that past drug use, I don’t know what her mindset would be.”
According to Christian, Zechariah’s birthday was just a few days ago and the family said Medlock wanted to buy him some presents. This was not an uncommon occurrence as Medlock has been a family friend for several years and often spends time at the house. According to Railsback, who heads the crimes against individuals division in the sheriff’s office, she’s previously taken Zechariah shopping, helped with homework, and done other basic things.
Still footage shows Zechariah and Medlock at Troup Highway Walmart between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, just about 12 hours before the child was officially reported missing to law enforcement. Footage shows the couple entering the store at 2:41 p.m. and walking out together after shopping and buying toys.
The footage shows the two walking through the store with normal mannerisms, according to Railsback, who said Walmart saw no red flags in the interactions and said Zachariah wasn’t afraid or distressed at the time.
Camera footage also provided a photo of the black Jeep, which the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said is the suspect vehicle, in the Walmart lot. The vehicle was also spotted around 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Kaufman County westbound on Interstate 20 toward Dallas.
“We’re looking intensely in the Dallas area right now,” Railsback said. “Child Protection Services, FBI Tyler and FBI Dallas, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (are all involved). We are currently using all available resources and doing everything we can to search for this child.”
An AMBER alert identifying Medlock as a suspect was issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety around 7 a.m. Monday morning. Because Zachariah has a history of dating medlock and she is a close family friend, his guardians had no need to worry and didn’t want to consider the possibility that he might be missing until they called the police contacted.
“The family had no reason not to allow it (Zechariah went with medlock or doubted she would bring him back,” Railsback said. “They dating wasn’t uncommon.”
But as the day wore on and they still hadn’t heard from Medlock, who doesn’t have a cellphone, or seen the couple return to the Overton home, the family began to worry.
“I think it was one of those things that they didn’t think could happen to them, so they waited for time to pass and eventually the grandson would return, which turned out to not be the fact, they stayed until now waiting for this to happen at around 3 a.m. and decided to call law enforcement to get us involved,” Railsback said.
The investigation is ongoing, the department said.
Zachariah is a Pre-K student at Arp ISD, according to the district.
“We have alerted our entire school district community to stay alert and ask for prayers for his safe and speedy recovery,” said Mike Alzamora, Arp ISD spokesman.
If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of Zechariah or Medlock, please immediately call 9-1-1 or the Smith County Sheriff’s Office at (903) 566-6600.
AMBER Alerts inform the public of serious child abductions to encourage leads and leads for law enforcement, according to the Texas DPS. In memory of Amber Hagerman’s tragic death, the letters of her name appear in the title of the show: America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER).
AMBER Alerts can only be issued if the missing person case meets certain criteria:
- Is this child 17 years of age or younger, whose whereabouts are unknown and whose disappearance has been determined by law enforcement to be involuntary, posing a credible threat to the safety and health of the child; and if abducted by a parent or legal guardian, was the abduction in the course of attempted murder or murder?
- Is this child 13 years of age or younger who was removed (voluntarily or involuntarily) from the care of a parent or legal guardian without permission by:
- Someone not related and over the age of three, or another parent or legal guardian who attempted or committed murder at the time of the kidnapping?
- Is this child in imminent danger of sexual assault, death, or serious physical harm?
- Has a preliminary investigation confirmed the abduction and eliminated alternative explanations for the child’s disappearance?
- Is there enough information that can be released to the public to locate the child, a suspect, or the vehicle used in the kidnapping?