When a child goes missing, police work tirelessly to try and bring them home to their family in good health.
But investigators from Missouri say a missing boy was hidden in an attic by his own mother for months, while the boy's father feared for his life.
Six-year-old Braedence Jones was reported missing by his father, Ryan, when he was not returned after a week-long visit with his mother, Aubrey Ferguson.
Ryan visited Ferguson's home to take his son back but found it was empty, and so was her parents' home next door.
Police then arrested Braedence's mother and her boyfriend, Woodrow Ziegler, in connection with the boy's disappearance.
Police say the couple and their relatives moved around Missouri for several months, while state troopers and U.S. Marshals tracked them from place to place.
Ferguson reportedly texted Jones several times to say their son was safe, but would not communicate with him otherwise.
When police investigated the home where Ferguson and Ziegler were staying, they found Braedence and his mother huddled in the crawl space of an attic, according to police reports.
"The boyfriend had already nailed the crawl space shut and covered it with either a carpet or some place of cloth and had moved furniture and other items in front of it to block it," said Lt. Arlyne Page of the Camden County Sheriff's Department.
Braedence has since been returned to his father and stepmother, Bre Dominguez. The couple quickly made up for lost time. But they also said there were signs that Braedence had been neglected during the months he was "missing."
"He mentioned that he hasn't had a bath. He had dirt caked on him," his stepmother said.
Aubrey Ferguson was arrested and charged with hiding her 6-year-old son for several months from his father, who had court-ordered custody.
In November 2019, the woman pled guilty to child abduction after she was involved in a five-month search for a missing boy.
After entering a guilty plea Nov. 6, Ferguson has had a sentencing hearing scheduled for Jan. 8, 2020. A sentencing assessment report has also been ordered.
Ziegler was charged with hindering the prosecution of felony. His case was set for trial June 22, 2020.