RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Thursday morning that investigators have not yet found Gabrielle Swainson, but bringing her home remains his number one priority. Deputies also released a picture of a set of pajamas that are similar to the clothing Gabbiee was wearing the morning she disappeared.
Lott said investigators continue to operate on the assumption that Gabbiee is alive and well. "We just have to find her," said Lott. "Until I know something different, she's alive in my heart."
The focus of the investigation remains on 52-year-old Freddie Grant. "We know who has the key to finding her," said the sheriff.
Lott believes Grant abducted Gabbiee from her Tamara Way home during the early morning hours of August 18 while her mother was at work. Investigators have been able to track Gabbiee's cell phone to Grant's home, the sheriff said. That phone has not yet been located.
In the days after Gabbiee's disappearance, her mother Elvia Swainson organized several searches and informational efforts to bring attention to the missing teen.
During one or more of those early searches, Lott said Grant actually joined in on the effort to help find her. Lott said Swainson called Grant for help and he showed up shortly after that call.
"He walked and handed out flyers and did what everybody else was doing," said Lott. "That makes me sick to my stomach."
Grant, according to Lott, has refused to talk to investigators from the beginning. "The first thing out of his mouth was 'I'm not talking. Talk to my attorney,'" said Lott.
Attorneys for the suspect are currently not letting detectives talk to him. "There's never been an interview," said the sheriff. "There's never been an interrogation."
Grant's vehicle, a light blue 1992 Ford Escort, has been impounded. Lott said investigators believe he used that vehicle to abduct Gabbiee.
"We asking anybody that may have seen [the vehicle] from Friday to Saturday morning to give us a call," said Lott.
The sheriff added that investigators are working to identify anyone who may have employed Freddie Grant. Lott said Grant may have worked as a landscaper or handy-man and has driven trucks in and around the Midlands.
"Those he worked for may have valuable information on Grant's behaviors, habits, tendencies or places he frequented," said Lott.
Lott is also asking anyone who Grant may have worked for or may have had contact with Grant to contact the department's Criminal Investigations Unit at 803-576-3187.
According to Lott, Grant was currently working as a truck driver, but the sheriff doesn't think he had time to take Gabbiee hundreds of miles away. They're still focusing the search in the Elgin area, the area near Elvia Swainson's Northeast Columbia home, and all areas in between.
"We don't believe he went out of state," said Lott. "There's a time frame there that nobody could find him. He hid her somewhere."
The sheriff's department on Thursday also released a picture of the same pajamas Gabbiee was wearing when she was taken from her home. Investigators hope that somebody may have seen her.
Lott stressed to the community that all searches should be coordinated through the sheriff's department.
Investigators are still getting tips and hope to continue receiving them. "It doesn't matter how small or insignificant it may seem," said Lott. "We want people to call us. We're going to follow-up on every single lead or tip that we get."
"My nine year old daughter says the same thing, she asked me the other morning, 'Daddy why can't you make him tell where Gabbiee's at,' we can't do that," said Lott. "We can't be like Jack Bauer on 24 or Stephen Garrett on Hawaii 5-0 and make someone tell, I wish we could, but we can't."
Meanwhile, Gabbiee's mother is holding out hope that her only child will be found safe.
Swainson said late Tuesday that she is upset, but is not giving up on her daughter.
"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," said Swainson.
Lott reiterated Thursday that Swainson should not be blamed for her daughter's disappearance.
"She can't be blamed for this," said Lott. "She had no idea that the monster that was her acquaintance would do what he did."
Speaking directly to Grant, the sheriff pleaded for him to help "remove the tears from Gabbiee's mother's eyes." "For God sakes, tell us where she's at," said Lott as he concluded the new conference.
The Kershaw County Sheriff's Department, Elgin Police Department and FBI are all assisting in the investigation.
If you know anything about Gabbiee Swainson's disappearance, you are urged to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.