Abducted baby found safe, mother in custody

BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A woman at the center of a nationwide Amber Alert after allegedly kidnapping her 4-month-old daughter from a Bladen County daycare has been arrested, according to the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.

Juanita Renee Askew, 22, of Whiteville, was taken into custody at a Greyhound bus stop in Lumberton Tuesday afternoon, according to the sheriff’s office. Her daughter, Lonnisha Renee Askew, is alive and is being checked out by EMS.

According to the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, Juanita Askew took the 4-month-old child from Little Hands Daycare near Bladenboro at around 5 p.m. Monday. The sheriff’s office describes Askew, the child’s mother, as a non-custodial parent who went to the daycare, grabbed the child and fled.

According to the sheriff’s office, Juanita Askew was allowed one supervised visit per month, which usually took place at the daycare or at the Columbus County Department of Social Services.

Askew allegedly called the Little Hands Daycare on Monday and said she was scheduled for a visit. She then reportedly ran off with the child when she arrived.

The Bladen County Sheriff’s Office said Askew’s family was cooperating with authorities and set up a meeting with Askew at the Lumberton bus station Tuesday afternoon so she could surrender the child to the family.

After Askew handed the child over, she and a male companion were arrested by law enforcement. The pair will be charged with child abduction, and additional charges are possible.

The 4-month-old was checked out by medical personnel and seems fine, the sheriff’s office said.

Anita Hall, the owner of Little Hands, said Askew had visited her daughter at the daycare a month ago but she was with a DSS worker at the time. Hall admitted that they thought Askew had the right to visit the child on her own, but later learned this was not the case.

“[When] she came yesterday, she was cordial, she went through the proper channels to visit the child. After the visit, she said that because she saw something going on with the child that she was going to take the child to Columbus County DSS to report. We told her she couldn’t take the child because she wasn’t on the sign-up list to take the child,” Hall said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

Hall said they thought something wasn’t right about the whole situation because Askew wasn’t visiting the daycare with a DSS worker.

“After we told her, she just continued to walk out the door and take the child. She got in a vehicle with another person — she was a passenger — and they rode off,” Hall said.

Hall was concerned that Juanita Askew didn’t realize the child has special health needs.

“She has to have a special milk and be held a certain way. I’m not sure if the mother is aware of all this about the baby,” Hall explained. “She really needs to be in a sound environment, she’s a loving baby...please bring the baby back."

Due to a delay in paperwork, an Amber Alert wasn’t officially issued until Tuesday morning.

Juanita Askew is the sister of Chauncey Askew, who was charged in the shooting death of State Trooper Kevin Conner in 2018. She was considered dangerous with violent tendencies and abrupt mood swings, according to the release.

According to the N.C. Division of Child Development and the Early Education, the daycare has been flagged for multiple violations over the last three years.