A 6-year-old girl who had been missing for two years has been found safe in a secret room under a staircase in an upstate Saugerties home after detectives spotted her “tiny feet” in the hidden space, cops said.
The parents of little Paislee Shultis had abducted their daughter after losing custody of her in 2019 and kept her hidden in Saugerties, where her paternal grandfather lives, since then, authorities said.
A tip led cops to the grandfather’s home Monday night, when an eagle-eyed detective spotted something off about the staircase and its steps and then, using a flashlight, saw a piece of a blanket peeking through the cracks.
“Detectives used a tool to remove several of the wooden steps, and that is when detectives saw a pair of tiny feet,” police said.
“After removing several more steps, the child and her abductor were discovered within,” cops said, adding that Paislee and her mother were found in “a makeshift room, under a closed staircase leading to the basement of the residence.”
Paislee was 4 years old when her parents lost custody of her and her older sister in Cayuga Heights more than 150 miles away, according to the local Daily Freeman. It’s unclear why authorities were taking the kids.
But on the day authorities were supposed to pick up the children, Paislee’s mother and father fled with her to Saugerties, cops said. The older daughter had been in school at the time of the abduction. She ended up living with a legal guardian.
Police said they are still trying to figure out exactly what happened over the ensuing months, but no charges were filed against Paislee’s parents, Kimberly Cooper, 33, and Kirk Shultis, 32, at the time.
Then Monday, authorities received a tip that Paislee was at the home of her grandfather, Shultis’s dad, Kirk Shultis Sr., 57.
Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra told the outlet that cops had previously been to the home after getting “leads that Paislee was at that house.
“A number of times we would go there, and sometimes, we were met with resistance, and at other times, they’d say, ‘Oh, no, you can come in and look around. There’s nobody here. The child’s not here,’ ” he said.
“And our belief is that at times when we went into the residence, although we were given limited access, they were using this location to hide the child,” Sinagra said.
On Monday, authorities found Paislee and Cooper in what they described as a “small, cold and wet” secret room under the staircase.
Cooper and Shultis Jr. were charged in the case, along with Shultis’s father.
The trio faces custodial interference and child-endangerment charges.
Local resident Annette Wrolsen told The Post on Tuesday that the arrests of her neighbors were surprising.
“They’re as normal as normal can be, except for the fact that they’ve got playground equipment out there and I’ve never seen a child out there in 12 years that we’ve been living here,” said Wrolsen, 63.
She recalled just one time last summer when she saw children in the Shultis’s yard for a birthday party for another one of Shultis Sr.’s granddaughters.
“But I would always mention, ‘How come there are never any kids?’” Wrolsen said. “I have a horse, and I ride up and down the road all the time. Never any kids outside. Never heard any, never saw any. It’s spooky.”
Paislee was examined by paramedics and found to be fine before she was released to the custody of her legal guardian and older sister at an undisclosed location. The little girl recognized her big sister, police said.
Sinagra said Paislee was “well taken care of and in good health,” the Daily Freeman said.
“The only problem is she hasn’t attended school, and they weren’t educating her at the house,” Sinagra said.
The cop said the child became excited when police passed a McDonald’s on their way to reunite her with her sister and guardian because she said she had not been treated to it in some time.
“The detective turned the car around and went into McDonald’s and got her food from McDonald’s,” he said.
Shultis and his dad have been released on their own recognizance, according to the local ABC affiliate.
Cooper is being held in Ulster County Jail on an outstanding family-court warrant, NBC said. She is being held on $50,000 bail, the Daily Freeman said.
All three have been ordered to stay away from the kidnapped girl and are set to appear in Saugerties Town Court on Wednesday afternoon.
A man answering the door at the family home Tuesday told a reporter, “You’re trespassing. Get off my f–king property.”
Saugerties police did not respond to requests for comment.
Paislee’s sister could not be reached Tuesday.