Heidi Todd and her family were "randomly targeted" by a stranger who showed up at their Johns Island home and abducted the 4-year-old girl, Charleston's top prosecutor said Friday.
Police officials have refused to answer questions about why the family was victimized in the attack. Feeding the mystery was their characterization of the perpetrator as an "unwanted guest" and their initial resistance to call the crime what other authorities said it was: a violent home invasion.
"To be crystal clear: There is no connection between the victims in this matter and the alleged defendant," 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said. "They were randomly targeted."
Thomas Lawton Evans, 37, faces a federal kidnapping charge in connection with the Tuesday ordeal that left Heidi's 30-year-old mother brutally beaten and put many on edge during a frantic search for the missing girl. He is expected to face more allegations.
After a court hearing Friday afternoon in Mississippi, where he was captured late Wednesday, Evans was expected to be extradited to Charleston for arraignment on the charge.
Evans will remain in federal custody after his transfer, but state charges are expected to be filed, Wilson said.
"Our goal is to render maximum accountability in an expedient manner, regardless of whether that is in federal court or state court, or both," the prosecutor said in a statement. "This investigation spans a wide geographical area. Information and evidence continues to be gathered and analyzed."
The FBI said Evans, who had been released from prison Feb. 1 after a 10-year sentence for violent crimes, attacked Heidi's mother from behind as she returned Tuesday morning to her Sweetleaf Lane home with three of her five children. The woman was badly beaten, suffering bleeding on her brain and facial fractures. She remained hospitalized Friday.
The attacker took Heidi. But for hours, her mother was in the house and unable to call for help, officials said. The FBI reported finding evidence that she had been tied up.
Charleston police wouldn't learn about her disappearance until later that day.
Police spokesman Charles Francis said Friday the department would not discuss whether the Todds were victimized at random.
"This is an ongoing investigation," he said, "and there are questions we aren’t going to answer at this time."
Amid an expansive search for the girl in South Carolina, three railroad workers in Riverside, Ala., saw Evans sleeping in a car near the tracks Wednesday afternoon. They noticed a girl with him.
The workers called the police, they said Friday during a news conference in Alabama.
"This was the first time seeing a small child in a vehicle like that" near the tracks, said Mark Burk, one of the employees. "I wouldn't want it on my conscience if I didn't" call for help.
Responding police officers grabbed Heidi from Evans' stolen car, but he drove off. He was arrested later in Mississippi after a high-speed pursuit.
Riverside's police chief, Rick Oliver, praised the railroad workers at Friday's news conference.
"They’re responsible for the little girl being saved today," he said. "They are heroes."
The FBI filed the kidnapping charge against Evans on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charleston. Later that day, he was transferred from one Mississippi jail to another.
Records from the Madison County Detention Center near Jackson showed Friday morning that Evans was being held by the FBI on two charges, including murder. But that was a mistake, said Supervisory Special Agent Donald Wood of the FBI's Columbia field office.
Most murder cases in the country are not handled by that federal agency.
The FBI asked the jail to correct the error, Wood said. He declined to say whether Evans had been linked to any homicide investigation.