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Three arrested after missing child found safe

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Three people have been arrested in connection with the disappearance of 13-year-old Ean Stephens on December 22: his grandfather, his step-grandmother, and a neighbor, who allegedly offered to help Ean find a new home and be adopted. Ean was found unharmed in Clay County yesterday.

According to arrest reports, Ean was living with the Stephens at Oak Glade Apartments but did not attend school. The investigation revealed that he spends his days walking around outside, talking to people of all ages and backgrounds, including “a man currently incarcerated under a rape charge, felons, dangerous criminals, drugs addicts, and drug dealers.” A Gainesville Police Department (GPD) officer reported that Ean has no phone or any other means of communication, does not have a key to the Stephens’ apartment, doesn’t know the Stephens’ phone numbers, doesn’t know his own address, and thinks he lives in “Ocala Apartments.” Ean reportedly does not know what city he lives in and cannot read or write; he has not attended school since second grade.

On the night of December 22, the Stephens left Ean at home while they went grocery shopping at about 9:30 p.m. When they returned at about 10:15 p.m., he wasn’t there. They began looking for him and asked Mejia if she had seen him. Mejia reportedly said she had not seen him and told them they had to wait 8-12 hours to report a child missing. She reportedly recommended that they “google it,” and an officer verified that the Stephens searched for that information at about 12:45 a.m. on December 23. They called 911 shortly after that search.

A GPD officer obtained surveillance video from a nearby store on December 24 that showed Ean running from the direction of his home at about 10:50 p.m. He was joined by another person, referred to as a witness, a few moments later; both appeared to be out of breath and kept looking behind them. At about 11:04 p.m., they began walking back in the direction they’d come from.

Officers located the witness, who reportedly said that Mejia knew the witness was with Ean at the store and that she had picked them up.

Based on that information, a search warrant was obtained for Mejia’s apartment, and the search was conducted on December 25. The search reportedly produced a large amount of drugs: 238 grams of marijuana, 12.89 grams of crack cocaine, 4.9 grams of methamphetamine, 21.79 grams of MDVP, and one gram of an unknown powdery substance dyed green. Officers also reportedly found a scale, baggies, and safety razors. 25 Suboxone pills were also found with no prescription bottle.

Another witness reportedly told officers that Mejia is known to sell drugs.

Mejia reportedly arrived at the apartment while officers were searching it, and when an officer told her she needed to talk to her, Mejia reportedly said she knew and “he’s safe.” Post Miranda, Mejia reportedly said Ean was unhappy living with his family and that he wanted to run away, so she took him. She did not provide any information about Ean’s location.

Detectives used Mejia’s phone data to locate Ean in Clay County. According to a release from GPD, officers believed Ean was at one of two possible locations in Clay County. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office responded, confirmed the location of the child, and notified GPD that he was safe and unharmed. GPD detectives met with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and recovered the missing child.

After he was found, Ean reportedly had many scars and told detectives that the Stephens beat him “all the time” and that they consumed narcotics in front of him. Ean reportedly told detectives that the Stephens had him approach strangers to sell items they had shoplifted from stores; they also reportedly made Ean search parking lots for cash receipts, then go take items from the shelves of the store to return for cash.

Tommy Stephens is Ean’s grandfather and legal guardian, and Jamie is Tommy’s wife and Ean’s step-grandmother. Detectives investigating the case learned that Ean has not attended school since second grade, when he went to school with multiple lacerations, prompting an investigation. Ean reportedly told GPD officers that the Stephens had “gotten high on drugs and whipped him repeatedly with a thorny vine/plant.” At the time, the Stephens told investigators that Ean was injured while playing, and the case was apparently dropped. Jamie reportedly told detectives that they don’t send him to school “to avoid false accusations.” She said she home-schools Ean, but after officers told her they found no computers or other educational materials in the apartment, she reportedly admitted that she does not home-school him.

The officer reported that the Stephens’ apartment is adequately furnished except for Ean’s room, which only has a mattress on the floor with one fitted sheet. His closet is reportedly empty, with only a few articles of clothing found in the room.

Jamie Stephens reportedly admitted to officers that she is a drug addict, mostly addicted to pills. She reportedly admitted purchasing drugs from Mejia.

Multiple witnesses in the neighborhood reportedly told officers that Ean has been physically abused and neglected by the Stephens.

Tiffany Helen Mejia, 40, has been charged with interfering with the custody of a child, knowingly making false statements, possession of marijuana, possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and trafficking in amphetamine. She was arrested on November 3 and charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription; she also has a pending petit theft charge.

Jamie Stephens, 43, has been charged with child neglect without great bodily harm and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She has no local criminal history but has a warrant out of Georgia for fraud.

Tommy Stephens, 55, has been charged with child neglect without great bodily harm and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He has no local criminal history but has a warrant out of Georgia for fraud.

Articles about arrests are based on reports from law enforcement agencies. The charges listed are taken from the arrest report and/or court records and are only accusations. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. 

  • My heart is hurting for the boy! I do hope they have found him some suitable place, and I do hope that where ever he is they will provide him with one of the best Christmases! And I do hope they provide him with the most love!

    So not only am I a blubbering ball of tears because my heart breaks for him, I am very angry! One because this child wasn’t doing any kind of school (my son is home schooled, is a year ahead of where he should be, and has straight A’s). I do not understand why they couldn’t do the necessary things for him. But then I guess a child is an inconvenience to a drug addict. I am also angry that neighbors knew of the abuse and yet didn’t report it! And yet they seem to say they care. Ugh!

    • I agree with you. I think a lot of citizens do not realize that all adults in Fl are mandated to report suspicion of child or vulnerable adult abuse. Not just teachers, counselors,etc.

      • Totally agree with neighbors concealing information. Who is the landlord of this drug bin?
        Also didn’t the police who investigated the incident at school have the address of the Grandparents?

    • Angela Casteel, I feel your pain. After reading this article, I see a different side of Mejia. Even though she is a druggie, she tried to help Ean get away from his situation. I am sure she knows more than is reported about his abuse. I think she was trying to help him because DCF failed to. My personal experience with DCF is similar. My grandson’s dad put him in the ER with a black eye. He was 8 years old. DCF ruled it an accident. It was no accident. My grandkids have a thick file of reports with DCF because of their dad. Nothing is done to protect them. Fortunately they only spend part of the week with their dad. I hope this is an opportunity to report the dysfunction of DCF. Something needs to be done so, kids have a voice.

  • I’m all for putting these animals on a runner during the next hard freeze.
    They need to be “fixed” while they’re at it.

  • You can always make an anonymous call to the DCF hotline if you know of a child being abused, and the state is obliged to investigate within 24 hours.

    • I’m sure someone did at one point…but because of limitations and litigation, the process took too long and therefore she had to react before another child loses their life over a long process, she reacted to protect the child and took him out of those unfortunate circumstances…she did do the right thing but came about it wrong…

  • To a drug addict everything is a inconvenience except their next fix. Florida Child Services is a joke. This child hadn’t gone to school since the 2nd grade and no school officials noticed or checked up on this. There was a reason probably long ago why the grandfather was given legal custody but you would think child services would do yearly well-being visits to insure the child is safe. As for the good hearted neighbor/drug dealer who cared about child but yet poisons the neighborhood with drugs may she rot in hell and along with the grandparents.

    • Took a “drug dealer” to react and go try and protect a child that no one seems to be protecting…where were these good neighbors you talk of…they didn’t do anything…

  • This kid has had a rotten upbringing. I hope he gets suitable treatment and enjoys being a kid. As adults it’s truly a great time.

    • A great way to help is through Foster Florida. They are an organization that provides support to foster families which is likely where Ean is now. You can donate a meal, a Christmas present, or even babysitting. The foster parents have to spend hours at court hearings and need help with watching children while they are there. Of course, we also need more foster parents too. Check the website at fosterflorida.org

      • Diane, YES! Foster Florida is a great program. I agree that donations should go there instead of a GoFundMe. FF will make sure he gets the $$.

      • Here’s as an idea.. react better and try and protect those unfortunate souls…quit given “hindsight reactions” and criticize on such unfortunate circumstances…the longer we wait, the more unfortunate experiences happen to those that don’t deserve it…

  • Total trash…… And to all the people who stood by and did nothing… You are also the problem.

  • Neighbors were not very helpful until the end. Glad Ean is safe, and hope he finds a caring foster family.
    Makes you wonder who their landlords are there? Do they not inspect their properties now and then?

    • Tiffany Mejia was the Manager at The complex
      and Saul Silber Properties is the Owner

  • Just a complete failure of the child welfare system. Starting with the school, investigators from law enforcement and the scumbag neighbors.
    Lying is rampant in our society now and no one wants to accept responsibility. Many adults have dropped the ball. This has been child abuse, not simply neglect without great bodily harm. He’s been absent from society since second grade. Can’t read or write!
    There needs to be a full investigation into this issue and many heads need to roll.

    • Exactly what I was going to post. GPD and other agencies need to be held accountable!
      Complete system wide failures.
      Full investigation of how this happened needs to take place.

  • Not a single racist comment under the most horrific case ive seen covered on this site. I wonder why

  • I just realized that this is the first article that I have seen on here where the commenters actually did not mention how horrible the dems are, how crazy the trumpers are, or some other useless argument.
    Kudos for everyone to focus on what is really important.
    I pray this young man is not too tainted by this filth to have a wonderful life.

    • This article made me realize what’s now missing in our Gainesville Sun. Thanks to Ala his Chronicle. And sadly, this poor young man’s chance of finding a stable foster care family to care for him/his needs as a young teen is slim. We can hope/pray for a better chance at life for him.

  • How does someone wanted for fraud maintain custody of a child? Was he being used for an ATM?

  • This is the sort of stuff that happens in multi-family neighborhoods where everybody rents and nobody knows each other very well. Protect the fabric of your single-family neighborhoods.

  • Jennifer Cabrera, I appreciate how well you articulated information in this article. Detailed, organized writing without sensationalism is difficult to find. I hope you are appreciated by those who pay for your articles, and I hope you get paid nicely for writing them. Considering the topic, I’m looking into ways to support the child mentioned.

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