Willow Sirmans, the 14-year-old girl from Grand Saline, Texas, whose disappearance on May 11 prompted an Amber Alert, has been found safe. Investigators said she was located in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Van Zant County Sheriff’s Office initially classified Sirmans as a runaway in the hours after she left her home. The Amber Alert was issued two days later as officials expressed concern that the teen was in danger.
Deputies publicly identified two persons of interest in the case while the search for Sirmans was underway. Austen Walker, a 21-year-old man from nearby Fruitvale, Texas, is now facing a felony kidnapping charge. A woman named Courtney Odum was also identified because Walker was driving a vehicle that is registered to Odum. Odum has also been taken into custody.
Here’s what you need to know:
FBI Agents Arrested Married Father Austen Walker In Kentucky & He Faces a Kidnapping Charge
The sheriff’s department quickly identified a main person of interest: Austen Walker, 21. Investigators have shared few details, but announced on social media that Sirmans had been traveling with Walker in a white Toyota Camry.
Walker was arrested by FBI agents in Louisville, Kentucky, after midnight on May 15. He was booked into the Oldham County Detention Center at 4 a.m., inmate records show. The Van Zandt Sheriff’s office says Walker will be charged with felony kidnapping.
Walker’s relationship with Sirmans is unclear. Walker got married in 2019 and lives in Fruitvale, Texas. In December 2018, Walker shared a photo of the engagement ring and wrote, “Been best friends since age 4 and now it’s a life time. She said yes. I proposed at Christmas!!!” Walker also has a 5-year-old daughter, according to his Facebook page.
Courtney Odum Told the FBI That Walker & Sirmans Had Gone to Louisville
Courtney Odum was identified as a second person of interest because Walker was believed to be driving her vehicle. Deputies said Walker was traveling in a white 2012 Toyota Camry with Texas license plate LGH 9294. The vehicle was registered to Odum.
After Sirmans was found safe, deputies shared that Odum had, at some point, been in the car with Sirmand and Walker but it was unclear when they parted ways. She admitted to FBI agents that Walker and Sirmans were staying at a home in Louisville, which assisted in Sirmans’ recovery. The Van Zandt Sheriff’s office confirmed Odum was in custody. CBS19 reported Odum was arrested in Missouri and also faces a kidnapping charge. But her name does not come up in a search of current inmates in the state, as of this writing.
Deputies shared a photo of Odum to social media but did not elaborate on how Odum was connected to Walker and Sirmans. According to Odum’s Facebook page, she has a baby son. Her most recent post was shared during the evening of March 12, after investigators had begun the search for Sirmans. Odum posted a meme about being a mother and wrote,”I love my son and wouldn’t trade him for the world!”
Sirmans Was Reported Missing the Day After She Was Believed to Have Left Home With a Friend
Sirmans was last seen around 10 p.m. on May 11, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, in the 3000 block of VZ County Road 1712 in Grand Saline, Texas. Sirmans stands 3 feet tall and weighs about 75 pounds. She has strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes and braces on her teeth. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children listed her birth date as May 3, 2006.
The Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office explained in a news release that deputies were first alerted that Sirmans was missing on May 12. Officials said Sirman’s family initially believed she may have left home with a friend and that they planned to travel to Chandler or Brownsboro. Both cities are located about 35 miles south of Grand Saline, which is a small town of about 3,000 people east of Dallas.
Investigators began the search by checking homes in Henderson County, where Chandler and Brownsboro are located. Sirmans was not found at any of the addresses deputies had identified. The Van Zandt Sheriff’s department said they had an idea of who Sirmans may have left her home with but deputies could not locate those people, either.
Sirmans was listed with the Texas Crime Information Center as a runaway at the beginning of the investigation. Deputies said the case “did not meet the criteria to issue an Amber Alert” initially. But officials later said they believed Sirmans could have been in “grave or immediate danger.”
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