Deputies: Missing North Port baby did not leave Fla.

Author: Stanley B. Chambers Jr., Shaun Kraisman, Kristin Sanchez, Sam Smink and Andrew Scheinthal
Published: Updated:

NORTH PORT, Fla. – Investigators believe a missing 9-week-old boy did not leave Florida with his parents, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Wendy Rose said.

Joseph D. Walsh, 36, and Kristen L. Bury, 32, are each charged with child neglect without great bodily harm in connection with the disappearance of their son, Chance Lee Walsh. Both remained in the Jasper County, S.C., jail Friday, each under a $150,000 bond. The couple is expected to be extradited to Florida next week.

Authorities spent Friday morning searching in and around the couple’s Orduna Drive home for the third time this week. Nearly a dozen law enforcement vehicles arrived at the residence at about 7 a.m. Most of the search, which included K-9 units, was conducted in dense woods and a canal behind the home. At one point, several investigators gathered around a specific spot in the woods.

A baby gator was removed from the canal on Thursday and was given an autopsy to rule out the possibility of it having eaten the child, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.

Search crews left the residence at about 11:30 a.m., then briefly returned at about 2 p.m.

“We did a thorough search the first time but we want to go through it again, that there is nothing left un-turned or any stones un-turned,” Sarasota County Sheriff Thomas Knight said. “We know and they know there are only two people who know where that child is at. And so our hopes is that they are sympathetic to the fact that, that it is their child and that they will tell us where their child is at.”

Chance was last seen with his mother on Sept. 9. After making unsuccessful attempts to check on Chance, relatives notified the sheriff’s office after the couple was involved in an Oct. 2 vehicle wreck in South Carolina.

Hotel stay

Walsh and Bury gave inconsistent stories about the wreck to relatives, according to a police report. Bury told her father Chance was unharmed in the wreck. Walsh told his mother the child was killed. Bury then told her stepmother that Chance was given away to a stranger at an Augusta, Ga., hotel, the report said.

The couple stayed at the Red Carpet Inn on Gordon Highway in Augusta on Sept. 28 and Sept. 30, according to investigators. A housekeeper who cleaned their room said she never saw a baby and that the couple “looked like addicts,” according to WRDW-TV, the CBS station in Augusta.

Walsh and Bury were described as “long-time drug users” in the police report.

Surveillance video from the hotel showed the couple without a baby.

A hotel guest, Bailey Christensen, said Bury attempted to sell her various baby items, the report said.

“When asked why she was selling the items, Kristen told Bailey that her baby had died 3 weeks earlier,” the report said.

Christensen told investigators Bury “really freaked her out,” according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Christensen’s husband, David Fulmer, also spoke with Bury.

“She goes on to tell me she’s homeless, this and that,” he said. “She showed me the needle marks on her arm. She tells she’s turned into something she didn’t want to.”

Investigators later questioned Fulmer based on Bury’s story of giving away Chance. They asked if he “had a child you aren’t supposed to have,” Fulmer said.

Fulmer and Christensen have an 8-month-old daughter.

“I think the worst,” he said of Chase’s disappearance. “Why make up so many different endings of it to every single person unless you’ve obviously done something bad to that child.”

Bury also tried to get a job at the hotel, according to a manager there.

 Second child

Chance’s disappearance has led investigators to consider revisiting the death of Bury’s second child.

Bury’s first child was given up for adoption nearly 10 years ago, according to friends. Her second child died two weeks after being born in 2014.

An autopsy determined that Duane Jacob Walsh died of acute pyelonephritis, a severe kidney infection. Sarasota County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega said the infection was the first he’s seen in an autopsy of an infant.

“At that time, our complete evaluation found essentially no significant injuries,” Vega told the Charlotte Sun on Thursday. He added that the investigation into Duane Walsh’s death, which was ruled natural, may be reopened depending on the outcome of Chase’s disappearance.

Bury told a relative she despised Chance because he was not Duane, according to the police report.

Images on the couple’s Facebook pages showed them in loving embraces during Bury’s pregnancy and Bury holding Chance.

Bury’s Facebook page also includes her holding a BB gun and pointing her middle finger at the camera.

Investigators optimistic

Small amounts of blood were found on the bed pillows, comforter and mattress during an initial search of the couple’s home on Monday, the report said. High blood spatter was also found on the walls, door, mirror and light fixture in the bathroom.

Two cadaver dogs “displayed changes in behavior at the area of the entry door to the apartment, indicating the possible presence of human remains,” the report said.

No remains were found during Monday’s search. Authorities are testing the blood to see if it is Chance’s.

The sheriff’s office initially issued a missing/endangered bulletin through state and national bulletin networks, but it was rescinded, then reissued as investigators received more information, said Rose, the sheriff’s office spokeswoman.

An Amber Alert was not issued because Chance was not abducted, Rose said.

Knight, the sheriff, is hopeful Chance will be found alive.

“We’re hoping too, optimistically, that if somebody does have the child that was given to them as one of the stories that they gave us, that, that person will see something in the media and have a big heart and contact us and say ‘I have the child and that child is alive,'” he said. “That’s what our hopes are.”

Finding a missing child with very few clues is difficult, Knight admitted, but said help from the FBI and others has been valuable.

Knight advised the public to not conduct their own searches around the couple’s home. A Facebook group, “Bring baby Chance Walsh home,” was started for those interested in conducting private searches for the baby.

“What we want is the public’s help,” he said. “If they saw the child, know where the child is at, anybody who may have the child to call our tip line or let the Sarasota sheriff’s office know.”

Chance’s grandparents hope the biggest tips will come from his parents.

“We are hoping Kristen and Joseph…will do what’s right and tell us where Chance is, where he’s located so we can bring him home,” Sally Susino, Bury’s mother, said on Thursday.

A candlelight prayer vigil for Chance is scheduled for Wednesday. The time and location has yet to be determined, according to the event’s Facebook page.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office at (941) 861-4074, Crime Stoppers of Sarasota County at (941) 366-TIPS or submit a tip online.

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