‘Christmas miracle’: 2 missing Jacksonville children found safe

Amber Alert canceled after 6-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister discovered in woods near their Whitehouse home

Amber Alert canceled after 6-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister discovered in woods near their Whitehouse home

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Braxton Williams, 6, and his 5-year-old sister, Bri’ya, were a little dehydrated and had a couple of bumps and bruises, but appeared to be in good health and were very talkative, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said. The children’s mother told News4Jax anchor Joy Purdy by phone that the boy and the girl were doing great. She thanked Jesus and the community for helping find her children.

Just after 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, which marked day three of a massive search for the missing children, 19 Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department personnel were searching on foot when one rescue team member thought he heard a child’s voice, the team members fanned out and both children were discovered inside a dilapidated pump house about a quarter mile into the woodline from their home off West Beaver Street.

TIMELINE: The search for Braxton and Bri’ya Williams | READ: Family grateful for help in search for missing children

As the children were brought out of the woods about 4 p.m., their cousin saw the commotion and ran over.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if it was good, bad or whatever, but they reassured me that everything was perfectly fine,” she said. “We just thank God because the only thing we wanted was the kids home and safe with their parents, so it has been a glorious day.”

A News4Jax camera captured the siblings being loaded into a JFRD ambulance. A rescuer said the boy and girl were “tired, hungry, thirsty” and didn’t let go of first responders. The children also asked for cheese pizza, “which we delivered,” the sheriff said.

A group of first responders could be seen kneeling in prayer as the ambulance left for UF Health hospital, where Braxton and Bri’ya were taken for observation.

“It’s a miracle -- Christmas miracle. And it’s a blessing. A lot of hard work been done and that’s all I want to say. Thank God for it," JSO Assistant Chief Ellis Burns told News4Jax at the scene.

Another officer added: “It was a lot of hard work by a lot of hard people, but it paid off.”

First responders knelt in prayer as the two children were taken to the hospital in an ambulance. (WJXT)

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Braxton and Bri’ya were reported missing by a family member about 1:30 p.m. Sunday after they had last been seen about 11:30 a.m. while playing in the front yard of a home at the Paradise Village Mobile Home Park off West Beaver Street just east of Chaffee Road. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued the Amber Alert about 5:15 p.m. that day. Roxanne Lloyd, the children’s paternal grandmother, told News4Jax that her son was preparing for a barbecue when the children disappeared.

“I’m very excited. I’m so glad. This is the best news ever. We got our babies back. I never gave up. My son never gave up. We kept the faith and I thank God for that," she said Tuesday after her grandchildren were found. “I want to thank all the volunteers, JSO, the firefighters, whoever played a part in this. I want to say thank you from my son, Bryan Williams, and my daughter-in-law, Bianca Jackson.”

As of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Sheriff’s Office, investigators had searched more than 430 homes in the community, 130 acres and 20 bodies of water, using air units and K-9s. The FBI, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were among the agencies involved in the search.

“A lot of times we don’t have great outcomes. This is a glorious day for the city that we were able to do this. But it all goes to show you what the partnership, how it works and how we can make a difference in people’s lives,” JFRD Chief Keith Powers said. “The good thing is that family is fixing to have a wonderful Christmas. They just got the best Christmas present they’ll ever get in their entire life.”

The sheriff said it’s believed the children just wandered off and took shelter in the pump house. He said it’s unclear if that’s where the children were the entire time.

Once the two children were found, the Amber Alert was canceled at 4:39 p.m. Tuesday. The sheriff said it was the “best possible outcome.”

Relatives and friends gathered inside the family’s home Tuesday evening breathed a sigh of a relief for the first time in three days. Police and even complete strangers brought food to the family home as loved ones waited for Braxton and Bri’ya to return.

“It’s just to show them how happy we are for them to get their children back and how it’s a miracle of God," said Gabrielle Cruz, who dropped off food for the family.

Braxton’s and Bri’ya’s disappearance resonated with the community, including families who live nearby and volunteers who joined authorities in the search. Many offered prayers and expressed hope the children would be found safe. Their prayers were answered.

About the Authors:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.

Award-winning broadcast and multimedia journalist with 20 years experience.