FBI already knew kidnapping suspect Thomas Evans was out of state morning after abduction

Thomas Evans in Charleston County Bond Court (WCIV)

The FBI knew Thomas Lawton Evans. Jr. was no longer in South Carolina nine hours before an Alabama police chief located him Wednesday, and rescued the Charleston County girl he's accused of kidnapping.

Evans is the man suspected of kidnapping a 4-year-old girl from her Johns Island home and savagely beating her mother, on Tuesday, February 13.

Information that a potential suspect in the case was across state lines was known to federal agents even as Charleston County law enforcement and public safety agencies continued Wednesday an extensive, hours-long search of the land and water near the victims' Johns Island home.

Affidavits filed by the FBI Thursday in their federal kidnapping case against Evans show authorities were alerted at 7:30 a.m. February 14 to a man trying to use the woman's debit card at a gas station in Greensboro, Georgia, nearly 230 miles away from Charleston.

The FBI says the man, later identified as Evans, took the debit card and kidnapped the girl after attacking her mother at knifepoint as she walked inside her home around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The woman told investigators she had just returned home from dropping off two of her children at school, when she was attacked from behind by a man with a knife while walking in her front door. She told investigators she told the girl to run and hide when the man attacked her.

According to the FBI, Evans tied up the woman, and repeatedly assaulted her, causing facial fractures, brain bleeding, and other significant injuries that have required surgery and extensive treatment.

The woman's condition and child's disappearance were not discovered until nearly 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, after police learned that her children had not been picked up from school that evening.

The FBI says Evans is not related to the victims in any way and does not have any legal custody rights to the child.

(Read the FBI's full complaint against Evans below. Having trouble viewing the document on your phone? CLICK HERE)

Around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, following authorities getting the hit on the mother's debit card in Georgia, a small-town Alabama police chief encountered Evans and the girl, after railroad workers reported a suspicious vehicle parked in the woods along the tracks.

Riverside, Alabama Police Chief Rick Oliver says when he approached the car, a stolen blue Chevrolet Impala with Illinois plates, he observed Evans, wearing a blue shirt, asleep behind the wheel with a young child sitting awake on the front passenger seat beside him, wearing adult clothes.

After rousing Evans, Oliver said the man was under the influence of “intoxicants,” and was very nervous. Oliver says he asked Evans to step out of the car with the child to answer some questions. After Evans identified himself, Oliver says he told Evans they would need to go to the police station.

According to Oliver, Evans asked him if he could carry the child while they walked, and when Evans handed the child to him, he bolted back to the car and drove away.

Evans was arrested later the night of Feb. 14, in Dekalb, Mississippi after a miles-long police chase.

Evans is charged by Mississippi authorities with multiple traffic crimes and possession of a stolen vehicle.

Evans has since been charged with kidnapping by the FBI in a federal case against him. The state prosecutor for Charleston County has charged Evans with several additional crimes in state court, including attempted murder, first degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of kidnapping, first degree burglary, armed robbery and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

The child was reunited with her family Feb. 15, after being placed in the custody of the Alabama Dept. of Human Resources Wednesday night, according to Charleston Police.

The family released the following statement on Feb. 15:

"Thank you to everyone for their support through this difficult time. Words cannot express the range of emotions and suffering that my family has endured these past few days. I cannot thank enough all the first responders, and especially the individual in Alabama who personally rescued [our daughter] and helped bring her back to us. In the coming days, we will be counting on your continued prayers and support and ask that you give us the privacy and room to reunite and heal as a family."

An AMBER alert was never issued for the girl, authorities say, because they did not have sufficient information needed to meet criteria necessary to issue the alert. One of those criteria is a clear description of a suspect vehicle and a license number.

The FBI in its complaint against Evans says when it was alerted to activity involving the woman's debit card in Georgia, survelliance video from the gas station did not provide a clear view of the car Evans was driving, or its tag.

Charleston Police said Thursday they are no longer interested in speaking to a Hispanic man with distinctive flame and lightning tattoos on his face. Police said Wednesday the man was a "person of interest" in the case.

Background information provided by law enforcement shows Evans has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 1999, and had only been released from prison from prison on Feb. 1 — less than two weeks before the alleged attack and kidnapping.

S.C. Dept. of Corrections officials say Evans was released to community supervision after serving a state mandated 85 percent of a 10 year prison sentence for a 2009 armed robbery and burglary conviction.

Evans had most recently been an inmate at Kershaw Correctional Institution, and was supposed to have stayed in Spartanburg County as part of his release terms, DOC spokesman Jeff Taillon says.

Prison records show a long list of infractions by and disciplinary actions against Evans during his time as an inmate in the DOC system.

In 2017, Evans was punished in prison with loss of privileges for taking a hostage, destroying property, twice having drugs and twice having a weapon. In 2016, records show Evans was punished for threatening harm a prison worker and for drugs. He also was twice punished for having a cell phone.

Prior to his 2009 conviction on the burglary and armed robbery charges, criminal background records show he spent 10 days in jail for assault in 2004. In 2002, he was sentenced to three years in prison for strong armed robbery, but only served 127 days.

In 2000, Evans was arrested and charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor, but that charge was later reduced to assault and battery. He was convicted of that charge, and sentenced to 1 year in prison, suspended to a year of probation.

In 1999, Evans was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of probation for breaking into vehicles.

(ABC News 4's April Salvador and Angela Brown contributed information to this report).

(Editor’s note: In light of additional details revealed regarding criminal aspects of this case, ABC News 4 has removed references to the victims’ names in order to protect their identities in the future.)

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