RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has announced an arrest in the disappearance of Gabrielle Swainson, but the teenager still hasn't been found.
The 15-year-old vanished without a trace from her Northeast Columbia home on August 18 during a 3-4 hour period when her mother, Elvia Swainson, was at work.
"We have not found Gabbiee yet. We're still actively looking for her and hope to return her home to her mother," said Lott. "But we do know who is responsible for kidnapping her from her house."
Lott said 52-year-old Freddie Grant has been charged with Gabbiee's kidnapping. Grant has been identified by friends as Gabbiee's mother's boyfriend.
He was arrested on Sunday after investigators found ammunition in his home. Grant is a convicted felon and possessing ammunition is against the law.
He was being held in the Lexington Detention Center on federal charges. The sheriff said he was charged with kidnapping on Tuesday.
According to Lott, investigators believe Grant forced Gabbiee to leave the Tamara Way house and took her to his home in Elgin that morning, but they still do not know where the teenager is.
"A monster came in that morning," said Lott.
Donna Hudson is one of Grant's neighbors. She agrees with the sheriff's description.
"There was always a creepy side to him," Hudson said. "He's a monster, but disguised. He's a dressed-up monster."
"When you have a missing person case like this, the first thing you do is look at the family," said Lott. "It didn't take us long to eliminate Gabbiee's mother or anybody in the family."
The sheriff said investigators then move to questioning the next layer of people that are closest to the family. Grant fell into that category.
"When we initially interviewed him, he was totally uncooperative with us," said Lott.
Detectives found it unusual that a friend of the family did not want to help with the investigation. As the search continued for Gabbiee, investigators starting making the case that Grant may be involved.
The sheriff said several items from Grant's home were sent to his department's forensic laboratory after investigators started questioning Grant's involvement in the Ridge View High School sophomore's disappearance.
Testing showed Gabbiee's blood on duct tape from the home. Lott said Gabbiee's DNA was discovered on several items on the premises and in close vicinity of the home as well.
Investigators have been able to track the girl's cell phone from her home to the Elgin area. Lott said the tracking date shows investigators when they left the home, what route they took and where the phone ended up. The phone has not been found.
Lott said it is unclear how Grant knew that Gabbiee would be alone that Saturday morning.
Over 120 deputies and FBI agents searched all day for Gabbiee in a junkyard directly across the street from Grant's home. They were unsuccessful.
The Elgin Police Department and the Kershaw County Sheriff's Department are also assisting in the search.
Lott commended Gabbiee's mother for being so strong through the whole ordeal.
The sheriff said that she is a "good mom who loved Gabrielle." "She spent time with her, and she worked hard to provide for her and did everything she could to care for her," said Lott.
"In this time, in this moment, it's gotten a little harder for me and I am still staying strong through God. That's the only person that's helping me stay strong," Elvia said.
Elvia has not commented on Grant's arrest.
Lott offered thanks for all the continued prayers and support from the community and federal, state and local law enforcement for Gabbiee and her family. "We asked for help from everybody," said Lott.
Investigators haven't given up hope that Gabbiee is alive. "I haven't given up hope finding her and bringing her home," said Lott.
If you know anything about Gabbiee's disappearance, you are urged to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.