AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – An Augusta teenager is still missing after more than two weeks and investigators believe she was kidnapped by her stepfather. Her mother does not believe that is the case.
“In my heart, in my mind I feel like he didn’t kidnap our daughter,” Tonya Tripp said of the incident.
An Augusta stepfather went from missing with his stepdaughter to being her accused kidnapper.
“These kids go with they daddy all the time. So, you mean to tell me every time they go somewhere with him it’s a kidnapping?” Tripp asked. “Just because I didn’t know it the second that he left with her?”
But Tonya Tripp isn’t buying this turn in the investigation. She said her husband, Leon Tripp, needed LaTania Janell Carwell’s tech savvy skills to operate cell phone GPS to help a friend with car trouble in Clarks Hill, South Carolina. The door slammed and the two took off in the family truck, later found on Old McDuffie Road, less than a mile from their home.
Tripp said the days leading up to the incident during the early morning hours of April 17 were normal.
“We were going to celebrate her birthday when she came home from school and she was like no. I just want you to cook me some fried chicken and macaroni ma. That’s all I want,” Tripp said about the day before her daughter’s 16th birthday.
Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Investigators stated in a wanted poster that Leon Tripp was spotted at a Stop N Shop Grocery on Lee St. SW in Atlanta four days after he left his Augusta home. Janell, which is the name family called her, was not with him, though it’s believed both are in Atlanta. As national media, such as The Michael Baisden Show and The Rickey Smiley Morning Show report the story, some believe the father and daughter had a relationship.
“Really,” Mrs. Tripp stated in disbelief. “He married to all this prettiness and he gon run away with our daughter? Come on now. That’s stupid!”
A tipster contacted the Carwell family stating they saw Janell just two days after she left with her stepfather. They said they saw her in Clearwater, S.C., off Belvedere – Clearwater Rd. between Lakeview Drive and Irene Street. It was about 1:30 in the morning and she was wearing a backpack, but when they asked Janell if she needed a ride she said no because she needed to meet someone.
Tripp’s lengthy criminal history stretches back to 2001 in various Georgia counties. His charges include Cruelty to Children, Armed Robbery, Aggravated Assault and Battery.
“My mom met him and if you met her, you will know she’s like a snoop out, hound dog. She will tell you, he ain’t no good. She fell in love with him too,” said Tripp whose mother is now deceased.
We spoke with the investigator on the case and he said there was no call requesting Leon Tripp help a friend with a car on the side of the road in Clarks Hill. Mrs. Tripp maintains her believe that the two left to do just that. As this story is shared, she is hopeful her daughter will come home.