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The two suspects arrested for the abandonment of a 2-year-old boy at a Mississippi Goodwill donation center last week are now facing federal kidnapping charges, while the boy’s mother has alleged that the male suspect attempted to force her into prostitution.
Jeremy Fitzgerald, 34, and Turliscea Turner, 29, are accused of deserting the toddler, who was discovered by an employee at a donation center in Southaven, Mississippi shortly before 10 a.m. on Dec. 14. U.S. Attorney David Michael Dunavant announced on Thursday that the Memphis-based duo had been federally charged with kidnapping, according to a press release about the complaint.
The complaint alleges that Fitzgerald had offered to have Turner, who was posing to the boy’s mother as Fitzgerald's sister, babysit the child overnight on Dec. 13 while he and the boy’s mother went to Nashville, the DOJ said in a press release. While in Nashville, Fitzgerald allegedly demanded that the woman work for him as a prostitute. The complaint alleges that when she refused, Fitzgerald left her in Nashville and did not answer her multiple phone calls.
Fitzgerald is accused of later demanding money from the boy’s aunt for his safe return. Authorities say Turner was unaware of this attempted extortion.
On Dec. 14, according to prosecutors, Fitzgerald, Turner, and an unknown individual drove with the boy from Memphis to Southaven, a suburb just across the Mississippi border. Fitzgerald is accused of then taking the child out of the car while they were stopped at a gas station and dropping him at the Goodwill. Prosecutors say that Turner had gone into the gas station and that she knew that the child had been left at the Goodwill.
When the toddler was discovered by a Goodwill staffer, a cryptic note was found in a plastic bag with the boy, along with some clothing, indicating he’d been intentionally dumped at the donation center.
“Child abandoned … no phone number for mom,” the note said, local station WREG reported.
As the boy is so young, he was unable to tell anyone his name or the name of his parent. He was then taken by Mississippi Child Protective Services, the station reported.
Police soon released surveillance images of the two individuals accompanying the boy moments before he was abandoned. One frame of the video shows a man, cloaked in black and wearing a fishing hat, a mask, and sunglasses, seen holding the child’s hand as they walked toward the Goodwill.
Surveillance video recovered by police in Southaven showed the maroon vehicle that Fitzgerald and Turner were driving, which according to the complaint was spotted that afternoon on a parkway in Shelby County, Tennessee. When law enforcement responded, Fitzgerald crashed the vehicle and was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries. Authorities said that they found Turner inside a nearby Kroger supermarket, where she was wearing the same clothing as in the surveillance video. Both were taken into custody without further incident.
Antoinette Smith, the boy’s mother, said in a Facebook Live interview with Memphis activist Barbara Buress last week that she had no intention of giving up her child, whom she identified as Sergio, WREG reported. Smith reportedly told Buress that she did not know that Turner was the girlfriend of Fitzgerald, who she said was an acquaintance of hers.
“If I knew that, I said I wouldn’t have left my baby like that. Ain’t no way I would have left my baby. That’s all I got with me,” Smith said. She also alleged in the interview that Fitzgerald had abandoned her at a Nashville store after she refused his demands that she prostitute herself.
Fitzgerald has been arrested on various charges over the past 16 years, including vandalism, drug possession and weapons charges, according to WREG.
As they had crossed a state line in the incident, Fitzgerald and Turner will face federal charges. They each face a possible sentence of 20 years to life in federal prison, five years to life of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine, according to the DOJ press release. There is no possibility of parole in the federal system.
On Friday, Turner appeared online before a federal magistrate judge in Memphis, where her attorney said he needed more time to speak to his client and develop evidence, according to the Associated Press. The judge continued the hearing until Monday.
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