SMITHFIELD — Police who searched frantically for Raji Davenport are relieved that he has been found safe, but they worry about what else has been lost: thousands of dollars misspent on a faked disappearance, and the goodwill of volunteers who went looking for a little boy they didn't know.
"This was never as it was originally reported," a frustrated Smithfield Police Chief Steve Gillikin said at a news conference Tuesday. "There's been a lot of man-hours spent. There's been a lot of money spent. Unfortunately, in situations like this, it makes the next one that much more difficult."
Rosnah Hassan Thomason of Four Oaks told police Sunday that her son, 3-year-old Siraj Munir Davenport, whom she calls Raji, had disappeared at the Brightleaf Flea Market in Smithfield while she loaded fruits and vegetables they had bought into her vehicle.
About midnight Monday, during an interview with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomason admitted that the child was never at the flea market with her Sunday and that he had left with someone earlier during the weekend. Investigators have said he was taken out of the country, likely to Thomason's native Singapore.
Tammy Locklear, a home health care nurse who is a coworker of Thomason's, said she felt betrayed by the woman with whom she had become close friends over the past several months.
"I was out for four and a half hours yesterday" taping up fliers and asking people if they had seen Raji, Locklear said. "I am devastated. We were very close. Now, everything she ever told me, I don't know if it's the truth or not."
What exactly happened with Raji is not clear.
At the news conference, Gillikin said he could not answer many questions because the investigation is continuing. He said it was too early to tell whether Thomason would face criminal charges. When asked, he said it wasn't even yet known whether Thomason is the child's biological mother. Gillikin said Raji was found with a family member but could not say what relationship the child had with that person.
Thomason moved to Four Oaks in the fall with Raji to live with David Davenport, who she said is Raji's father. Jeff Beane, a herpetologist at the Museum of Natural Sciences, said he has known Davenport since about the early 1990s.
Davenport took care of the animals in the living collections section of the museum, tending snakes, alligators, lizards, turtles and amphibians. Eventually, he decided to go full time with his side business, EcoQuest Travel. Through his company, Davenport has led trips to Nebraska to see sandhill crane migration, to Vietnam, where rare leaf monkeys roam, and to South Africa.
Beane didn't know when or how Davenport and Thomason had met, but he said Davenport had claimed Raji as his own. Beane said the first time he saw all three together was at a Sandhills Natural History Society talk in November.
Davenport was leading a tour in Vietnam when the child was reported missing. As of Tuesday afternoon, he had not yet returned home.
Dozens look for Raji
After receiving a 911 call about Raji, police shut down the flea market, looked through people's cars and launched a search that brought out dozens of law enforcement officers and hopeful volunteers who tried to find the 35-pound boy. Into the night Sunday and again Monday, they canvassed nearby neighborhoods, searched sections of the Neuse River, posted fliers with the child's picture and prayed.
Spokeswoman Tammy Amaon said about 30 members of the Johnston County's search and rescue team put in about 640 man-hours looking for the child. Two sheriff's office boats were launched; officers were dispatched on four-wheelers, and the State Highway Patrol brought in a helicopter.
Agents from the Raleigh, Miami, Washington, Charlotte and Richmond offices of the FBI put in time on the case. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent a representative to help. An Amber Alert was issued.
Wendy Ivey was among a group of mothers who went up and down U.S. 301 and U.S. 70 on Monday handing out fliers in English and Spanish. She woke up Tuesday and got dressed, ready to do it all over again.
She rejoiced when she found out Raji was safe, but when she learned Thomason had not been truthful about his disappearance, Ivey said she worried that would make children less likely to heed their parents' warnings to stay close.
"Some of them may think this little boy didn't get gone," Ivey said. "All the kids at the day care were crying, and then to find out it was a great big fib."
Ivey said it wouldn't stop her from doing the same if another child goes missing.
"You do what you feel is right in your heart," she said. "All I wanted was for him to be with his mama, and hopefully that's where he is."
Locklear, Thomason's coworker, has two boys of her own, ages 2 and 8. The older child, she said, was distraught over the disappearance of his friend.
"He kept telling me, 'My heart is broken. My heart is broken,' " Locklear said. On Tuesday morning, her son heard on the news that Raji had been found, and ran to tell Locklear. On Tuesday afternoon, Locklear said she had no plans to tell him that Raji was never missing in the first place.
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