JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville toddler who was reported missing Wednesday after the man who picked him up from day care never brought him home was reunited with his mother Thursday after an overnight search, police said.
Keith Martin, 49, who picked the boy up from Honey Bears Daycare off Normandy Boulevard about 2 p.m. Wednesday, was arrested on charges of child neglect, interfering with child custody and failure to appear, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Police said Martin did not show up for a Dec. 4 court date on a drug possession charge from September.
Martin's bond was set at $153,509 at a court hearing Friday. He will be in court again Dec. 27.
Alexis Small said Martin, a longtime friend of her mother, picked up her 2-year-old son, Legend Jones, Wednesday afternoon because her mother was in the hospital and Small was at work.
But after Martin took the child from the daycare, neither was seen again that night, police said.
According to his arrest report, Martin didn't have a car seat and didn't have any supplies to care for the child, including diapers.
For hours, Small had no idea where her son was.
A missing child alert was issued for Legend about 2:30 a.m., and police sent out a call for the public to help find the boy.
About 8:30 a.m., as Small was being interviewed by reporters, she got the call she had been praying for: Legend had been found safe.
“It was the worst phone call ever, knowing that he was missing, but it was a joy when I got the call that he was found,” Small said.
With a wash of smiles, hugs and kisses, Small was reunited half an hour later with Legend at Wolfson Children's Hospital, where he was taken as a precaution after being turned over to police. Small said Legend was hungry and tired, but otherwise was healthy and had no injuries.
"I'm just excited right now," Small said. "Very happy, thankful. I'm blessed."
She said she just wanted to spend the day with her son after spending a night not knowing where the was.
The co-owner of Arden's Kafe & Katering in Marietta said she saw Martin, a former employee, on the news Thursday morning and immediately sent him a text message, trying to convince him to bring Legend to the business and turn himself in.
Arden Desaussure said Martin struggles with addiction and she's been trying to help him over the past few months. Martin has previous arrests, including one in September, for cocaine possession.
Desaussure said she never got a response from Martin to her text message, but then he pulled into the back parking lot around 8:30 a.m. with the toddler in the car.
She said Martin was agitated and appeared high. He said he knew police were looking for him, but that he hadn't done anything wrong.
“I said, 'I understand that, but the public doesn’t understand that, and you need to get some help,'” Desaussure said.
Others who work in the strip mall alongside Arden's Kafe said the area was Martin's safe haven and they weren't surprised he came there for help.
Desaussure said she immediately took the boy, gave him to her business partner, who was also there, and called police. She said the boy had a wet diaper, so the they changed him and gave him a glass of milk and a bag of Cheetos.
Desaussure said she tried to stall Martin so he wouldn't leave before police arrived.
“It just breaks my heart, because I love Keith,” she said. “I love Keith Martin like my son.”