Unicoi Co. Sheriff: Accused kidnapper has no ties to victim’s family

UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- A man charged with kidnapping a 5-year-old girl is under investigation by state and local police. 

Justin Claude Richardson of Erwin appeared in court this morning for arraignment on the charge of especially aggravated kidnapping.

He is accused of kidnapping the girl who was playing in front of her home in the 4900 block of Unicoi Drive in the town of Unicoi Monday afternoon.

Richardson allegedly dropped her off on Volunteer Drive, not too far from where he allegedly kidnapped her.

News Channel 11’s Blake Lipton spoke with one of the women who stayed with the little girl until police arrived.

He also learned the accused kidnapper is the focus of other investigations.

“It’s very scary to think this happened in broad daylight,” said Ashley Huffin, who lives on Volunteer Drive.

Hufflin said her sister was shocked to find the 5-year-old girl cold and barefoot, standing alone.

“The little girl was very scared,” she said, “we weren’t sure what was going on, if she was just lost or kidnapped, we honestly didn’t know until we called the police.”

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley provided News Channel 11 an update on the case Tuesday. 

“According to the little girl,” said Hensley, “she was there in the yard, he pulls up and pulls her into the van and takes off with her.”

Hensley said around 15-20 minutes after learning the young girl was abducted, authorities arrived on scene. 

“This case is different,” he said. “This man does not know this family, this family does not know this man.”

The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, along with Erwin police and Tennessee Highway Patrol wasted no time, sealing off all exits out of Unicoi to find the little girl.

An officer located Richardson pulling in to the Dollar General in the town of Unicoi shortly after. 

“He wasn’t nervous or anything,” said Brandy Fender, who works at the Dollar General, “just normal.”

Fender told us Richardson was looking to buy oil and had an older family member with him. 

“He barely got in his car and the parking lot was surrounded,” said Fender.

Officers were able to arrest Richardson, who was reportedly driving a maroon or burgundy van at the time of the reported kidnapping. 

At the time of his arrest, Richardson was with an older relative who had no idea about the kidnapping that reportedly happened not long before they arrived at the store.

Sheriff Hensley also said that Richardson may be at the center of other investigations involving children.

“Not only here in Unicoi county, the town of Erwin,” he said, “but Johnson City and Elizabethton.”

Sheriff Hensley said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI are assisting in the case.

“We are going to not leave any stone unturned on this investigation,” he said.

PREVIOUS STORY: Erwin man charged with kidnapping child, leaving her on side of road

Hensley is also asking the public if they have any information about Richardson and anything suspicious in his history, to give them a call.

Richardson is now in jail on a $500,000 bond and is charged with especially aggravated kidnapping. 

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