Mom charged after 2-year-old son wanders away from home

Bradford County Sheriff's Office booking photo of Stephanie Jenkins
Bradford County Sheriff's Office booking photo of Stephanie Jenkins

STARKE, Fla.A Bradford County mother of five is behind bars after her 2-year-old son was found wandering in the streets of Starke. Stephanie Jenkins, 32, is facing one count of child neglect and police said this isn't the first time the safety of Jenkins' children has been questioned

Deputies said they received a call from a woman who lived in the 17500 block of Northwest 36th Avenue about the boy who appeared to have walked away from his family.

"The woman that lived there heard him crying out in the yard, stayed with him for about 30 minutes, then realized nobody was looking for him, that's when she contacted us," said Bradford County Sheriff's Captain Brad Smith.

Channel 4 spoke with one of Jenkins' neighbors Monday night who said she saw the 2-year-old walking through her yard just before 8:30 a.m. Sunday. The neighbor said she waited for a period of time to see if anyone came looking for the child, but when no one showed up, she called the Bradford County Sheriff's Office. She said she's thankful the police were able to find the boy's mother.

Adrian Slylkowski, who owns Sleepy Hollow Motel, told Channel 4 that the Jenkins family was staying at the hotel.

"She told me that she woke up this morning and the door was basically cracked open and her child was gone," said Szylkowski. "She was panicking, she was pretty, I could tell with her facial expressions she was pretty freaked out."

Investigators said it's likely the child made his way to the line of traffic, then out around a curve and onto a dirt road off NW 36th Avenue.  Investigators said the boy was nearly a quarter mile away from the hotel when someone spotted him.

The boy was taken to the Sheriff's Office.

While deputies canvassed the area for the parents, a call was received from the mother, Stephanie Jenkins, advising of the missing child, deputies said. They said once the mother was identified, deputies realized the family has been involved in previous investigations with Sheriff's Office and Department of Children and Families.

It took deputies about an hour and a half to find Stephanie Jenkins and later arrested her for one count of child neglect.  According to the Department of Children and Families, Jenkins has four other children ages 4, 5, 11 and 12.

Jenkins also has a previous report of neglect that is being investigated. That investigation involves her 11 and 12 year-old children who are already in protective custody.

DCF has removed the rest of Jenkins' children and placed them with a family member. 

Jenkins was taken into custody and will be held at the Bradford County jail without bail, pending first appearance, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday morning.