As the welcome news came Thursday that three missing Austin-area sisters had been found safe in Florida, questions remained about how long it took school officials to learn one child was missing and why authorities didn’t send out a statewide Amber Alert.
Two of the sisters had been in foster care since Nov. 3, when authorities learned their mother had allowed their father, 46-year-old Anthony Joseph Jordan II, to live with the family, counter to directives by state case workers. Anthony Jordan had been accused of sexually assaulting the oldest girl, 16, court records show.
Two of the girls had been missing since Tuesday, when their mother, Sarah Marcella Jordan, 38, abducted the youngest girl, 10, and a middle child, 13, authorities said. She was arrested Thursday in Pensacola, Fla., and charged with interference with child custody, officials said. Authorities didn’t say whether anyone else had been charged in the case.
According to an arrest affidavit, Sarah Jordan and the 16-year-old, who was not an Austin student, went to Oak Hill Elementary School on Tuesday searching for the youngest child.
Campus officials knew the 10-year-old was in foster care and that she should not be released to their parents. A teacher told police the 10-year-old was outside of the school when she saw her oldest sister and ran to meet her. They hugged, and the teenager told the younger child they needed to go and started to walk away with her. The teacher intervened, blocking their path, and told them they couldn’t leave, the affidavit said.
Both the teacher and the 16-year-old were holding onto the girl when a woman, who police believe was Sarah Jordan, approached them. Jordan grabbed the teacher by the arm, “physically removed her grip” from the 10-year-old, and told the teacher, “Go ahead and stop me,” before fleeing with the girls, the affidavit said.
It was not clear Thursday how Sarah Jordan got the 13-year-old middle sister, who attends O. Henry Middle School.
Authorities and school officials only noticed she was missing after the search for the youngest child was underway. Once police realized the 10-year-old had a sister at another school who could also be at risk, they went to check on her and found that she was missing. The 13-year-old had showed up for classes Tuesday but left at some point before school was out, school officials said.
Austin school district officials did not provide more information Thursday on why they reported the youngest child missing Tuesday but did not release any information about her missing 13-year-old sister, despite police knowing the two sisters had gone missing the same day.
It is also unclear why state authorities did not issue a statewide Amber Alert to help find the girls.
The school district’s interim police chief, Christian Evoy, said his department contacted the Texas Department of Public Safety, which ultimately decides whether to send an alert.
DPS spokeswoman Robbie Barrera did not address the specifics of the case, but said certain criteria must be met for a statewide alert to be sent. If an alert was not sent, then the requirements were not met, she said.
According to the DPS website, some of the criteria for issuing a statewide Amber Alert are the child’s age; whether the child is in immediate danger of sexual assault, death or serious bodily injury; whether a preliminary investigation has verified an abduction; and whether the abduction happened in the course of a murder or attempted murder case involving the parent or legal guardian.
Even though a statewide Amber Alert was not sent, Barrera said a local Amber Alert was sent to law enforcement agencies in Central Texas.
The Department of Family and Protective Services received an outcry Nov. 2 about the possible sexual abuse of the 10-year-old by her father, according to a petition the state agency filed to terminate the parental rights of Anthony and Sarah Jordan.
According to the petition, Anthony Jordan wasn’t allowed to live with the girl and didn’t have permission to be around her.
However, when the 10-year-old daughter was registered for school, Sarah Jordan checked a box on the registration form that stated Anthony Jordan lived in the home with the children, the petition said. The document said an investigator who went with Cedar Park police officers on Nov. 3 to visit the Jordans’ home in Williamson County found Anthony Jordan was living there.
“This put all three children at risk of sexual abuse by Mr. Jordan,” the petition said. Anthony Jordan told the investigator he was going outside to smoke a cigarette and never returned, the document said. “It is believed that he went and picked up (the 16-year-old),” the petition said.
The 16-year-old had been missing since Nov. 3, according to a database kept by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The petition said the 16-year-old called the investigator Nov. 6, saying she would come in if the agency would guarantee her in writing that she would be placed with her sisters.
She “stated that she is safe and that her parents do not know where she is and that the department would never find her,” the petition said.
The document also said Anthony Jordan was being investigated on Feb. 29, 2016, for an alleged sexual abuse of the 16-year-old after she made an outcry about it to investigators in a Travis County case. State case workers placed the children in temporary foster care at that time. Sarah Jordan was able to regain custody after a “stay away” order was issued on their father, the petition said.
“The family absconded to Florida and the court case was dismissed due to the family being unable to be located,” according to the petition.
The state agency then placed paperwork in each of the children’s school files stating Anthony Jordan could not live with them and didn’t have permission to be around them, the petition said.
The petition requested to terminate the parental rights of Anthony and Sarah Jordan saying, “There is a continuing danger to the physical health or safety of the children if returned” to their parents.
A search of public records shows Anthony Jordan has a previous conviction for selling cocaine. He was not with Sarah Jordan when she was taken into custody on Thursday, authorities said, and his whereabouts are unknown.
Family abductions make up the second-largest number of children who are reported missing in the United States, with the first being runaways, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. About 230,600 children were abducted by family members in the United States in 2013, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Justice study.
To prevent family abductions, a parent (or guardian) should:
• Seek a custody and visitation order to specify the rights of both parents regarding the child.
• Ask a judge to include prevention provisions in the custody order, including the prohibition or unauthorized pick-up of the child and restrictions on the removal of the child from his home state.
• Keep updated photos of the child, a complete written description of the child, having the child fingerprinted and notifying schools, childcare centers and babysitters of custody orders.
Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children