- Julie Chang American-Statesman Staff
Fear for her daughters’ safety inside a South Austin foster home prompted Sarah Marcella Jordan of Cedar Park to violate a court order last Tuesday when she picked them up after school and drove them to Florida, triggering a multistate search that ended in her arrest, her husband said.
Authorities found Jordan’s daughters safe in Florida on Thursday, but not before Central Texas law enforcement agencies had roused the public and the media to help them in their search.
Jordan’s husband and the girls’ father, 46-year-old Anthony Joseph Jordan II, told the American-Statesman that in the days leading up to their disappearance, his 10-year-old daughter had called to say that three children in the foster home had tried to suffocate her with a pillow and that in a separate incident, a boy had stabbed her in the foot.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said the agency has never received any reports of harm to the Jordan children and still has not received any complaints from anyone. However, the agency says it will investigate the matter based on publicity surrounding Anthony Jordan’s claim.
On Monday, she and her 13-year-old sister ran away briefly from the foster home, he said.
“You can hear my wife on the phone, and she is losing it. Her baby is in there,” Anthony Jordan said about his wife learning about the alleged abuse in the foster home. “My wife … she said, ‘I’m going to go get the girls.’ ”
On Tuesday, Sarah Jordan and her 16-year-old daughter, who is not an Austin student, picked up the 10-year-old from Oak Hill Elementary School in Southwest Austin, despite attempts from school officials to intervene. They then picked up the 13-year-old after she had left O. Henry Middle School.
That evening, Austin school district police described the mother’s actions as a possible abduction and asked the public to help them find the 10-year-old. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children later posted photos and descriptions of the Jordans’ three daughters.
By Wednesday, the family was in Pensacola, Fla., where Anthony Jordan’s parents live.
Authorities then announced that Sarah Jordan had been charged with interference with child custody. An affidavit filed against her by police noted that sexual assault allegations against Anthony Jordan, which he denies, were the basis for putting the children in foster care.
Because of the nature of the allegations and privacy concerns, the Statesman is not using the names and photos of the children.
The two youngest girls had entered foster care Nov. 3 after the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services received a report about possible sexual abuse of the 10-year-old by her father, according to a petition the agency filed to terminate parental rights. The 16-year-old avoided entering foster care custody after refusing to tell authorities her whereabouts.
The petition said Anthony Jordan was previously investigated in February 2016 because of allegations of sexual abuse after the 16-year-old alerted authorities. State caseworkers placed the children in temporary foster care at that time. Sarah Jordan regained custody after a “stay away” order was issued on the girls’ father, the petition said.
According to the petition, that 2016 case was dismissed because the family had “absconded to Florida.”
Anthony Jordan said that the case was dismissed because the allegations were false and that he has never sexually abused his daughters. Jordan has not been charged with a crime involving his daughters.
Jordan said his wife and 16-year-old daughter provided few details to him about their plan to go with the two youngest girls to Florida because they didn’t want officials to have more fodder to use against him. When he got the call to start driving to Florida, he and his 19-year-old son followed, he said.
Both parties stopped a few times along the way, once to enjoy a dinner and ice cream as a family for the first time in two weeks, he said.
He said when authorities in Pensacola found his wife and three daughters, the 16-year-old called him frantically asking for his help. He was staying at a nearby hotel. “It broke my heart,” he said.
Jordan describes his three daughters as all honor roll students. He said the oldest is headstrong and wants to join the Navy to become a paramedic, his middle daughter loves to sing along with Adele and aspires to be an attorney, and his youngest is infatuated with fossils and the video game “Minecraft.”
Jordan spoke to the Statesman from Pensacola, where his wife remained in jail Saturday. His three daughters have returned to Central Texas, where they are in the custody of Child Protective Services, he said.
He said he has been video chatting with his wife from jail, and that they pray a lot. He said if she isn’t extradited, she must remain in a Florida jail for 30 days. According to Escambia County records, Sarah Jordan’s next court date is Friday.
He has been in contact with his two oldest daughters but doesn’t know where his youngest daughter is.
“I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know,” Jordan said through tears. “So I’ve got to go back to court; I’m trying to heal myself. Then we have to come back down here because I can’t leave my wife here. This is not right, man.”
Tuesday, Nov. 21 update: This article has been updated from an earlier version to include comment from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.