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Rescuers explain how they found missing 9-year-old Tennessee girl

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Rescuers find Carlie Trent

Two men became heroes Thursday when they found a missing 9-year-old girl in a remote section of east Tennessee.

They held Carlie Marie Trent’s suspected captor at gunpoint until authorities arrived, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.

“These are two heroes who went on their property just to see if they were there,” Gwyn said. “The public is who rescued Carlie and without their assistance I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”

Carlie went missing May 4 after her uncle by marriage, Gary Simpson, removed her without permission from her school in Rogersville, the TBI said. Rogersville is in the mountains of east Tennessee and authorities thought that’s where they’d find them, perhaps camping.

Gary Simpson, Carlie Trent

Gary Simpson, Carlie Trent

The TBI asked the public to look in their barns and on their property and four-wheel trails for clues.

That’s what Stewart Franklin, Donnie Lawson, a farmer; Roger Carpenter, a minister; and another man were doing at the property on Thursday, Gwyn said.

Franklin and Lawson came across Carlie and Simpson in a rugged area of Hawkins County, where Rogersville is located, Gwyn said. Franklin held a gun on Simpson while Lawson called 911, he said. Authorities initially said Carpenter was one of the two who found the girl.

“I think it’s the Lord leading us,” Franklin told WVTL. “Each one of us had been praying every day to help us to find this little girl. Finally, answered prayers.”

Franklin said his own two daughters inspired his search efforts.

“There’s a lot of abandoned cabins in the area and it’s a lot of, you know wilderness in here,” he said, describing the area where the discovery was made.

The men say they passed the area where Carlie was found before, but something made them check again.

“Something just kept telling us to come back to Gravely Valley Road. I think I know what that something was,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter told WBIR that he was inspired to search for the missing girl because of Carlie’s resemblance to his own granddaughter.

“If this was her, I’d want everyone of you all out there looking for her,” he said.

It seemed like the entire state exulted when the news broke that Carlie was found. An intensive search had been underway, with authorities earlier saying Carlie might have been in “imminent danger.”

An Amber Alert had been issued and the FBI made the disappearance the case of the week on its website. Officials said Simpson at one point had custody of the girl, but her father recently regained custody and the uncle had no custodial rights at the time she disappeared.

Carlie appeared to be safe but was taken to a hospital to be checked out, Gwyn said.

Simpson, 57, was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and may face other charges. He’s being held in the Hawkins County Jail.

Gary Simpson mug shot

Gary Simpson mug shot

Josh DeVine, TBI spokesman, said Simpson bought clothing and camping equipment before going to the school, so investigators thought they might have been staying in the woods or at a campground.

People had reported seeing Carlie as far away as Idaho but the search had always been focused on Hawkins County, Gwyn said.

“Our intelligence was telling us that, our experience was telling us that,” he said.