Runaway teen, baby found safe in St. Charles

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 7/8/08)

WOOD RIVER - The frantic search for a 15-year-old developmentally disabled girl who sneaked out of her Wood River home with her 3-month-old daughter ended happily Tuesday when police found them in St. Charles, Mo.

Ashley Dickerson locked her door and forced out the screen of her bedroom window, then climbed out with Angel, her infant, between 1 and 6 a.m. Monday, said her stepmother, Belinda Dickerson, 48.

"She took the baby and crawled out the window and did not bring any bottle, milk or anything for the baby," Belinda Dickerson said. "She's not real good at taking care of the baby."

An across-the-street neighbor saw Ashley standing in her bedroom, holding the string to her window blinds as late as 1 a.m. Monday, Belinda said. Ashley was found missing from the Dickerson house in the 1500 block of Brushey Grove Avenue at 6 a.m. Monday, when Belinda's daughter left to drive her boyfriend to work.

Belinda had feared for the safety of Ashley and Angel. She passed out fliers and called police, but authorities found no sign of the pair of missing minors on Monday.

Sgt. Michael Sabolo of the Wood River Police Department followed a lead Tuesday morning to find the teen and her baby in the 1000 block of South Main Street in St. Charles.

"We assisted Wood River sometime around 10 o'clock this morning," said Detective Sgt. Bill Wilcox of the St. Charles Police Department. "We located Ashley and her infant child, Angel. She has a friend here in St. Charles."

Detectives tracked Ashley down based on phone call records obtained online, Wood River Police Chief William Webber said. The department also assigned forensic specialists to search for clues on her computer.

"We had an idea of where she could have gone or the last person she might have talked to," Wilcox said. "We went there with Wood River to assist in the investigation," finding Ashley and Angel at a residence in St. Charles.

"The baby looked in good health," Wilcox said.

Belinda left Wood River with Tim Dickerson - Belinda's husband and Ashley's biological father - shortly after the discovery. The couple picked up Ashley and Angel at the police station in St. Charles about 1 p.m. Tuesday, Wilcox said. They drove back to the station in Wood River, where police commenced an investigation.

Police learned that a 32-year-old man who Ashley had met in a chat room picked her up Monday at a business in Wood River, a news release from the Wood River Police Department said. A note that Ashley left for her family said she was traveling to Ohio to find her mother.

Detectives said Tuesday they were continuing to investigate the 32-year-old man's relationship with Ashley.

Ashley's sudden departure shocked her family.

"We were all totally surprised. We had no idea this was going to happen," said Dolores Bender of Hamel, Belinda's mother. "We're just glad she has been found."

Bender, 72, said she suspected a lack of medication for Ashley's bipolar disorder may have led to the teen's disappearance.

"She was not on medicine," Bender said. "They quit giving her medicine when she was pregnant."

Monday morning's mishap was not Ashley's first.

"She ran away at one time, and then she got pregnant. That was when she lived with her mother," Bender said.

She said Ashley moved in with her father and stepmother about six weeks ago.