Woman Who Claims to Be Abandoned Boy's Mom Says He Was Taken by Man Who Tried to Prostitute Her
A 2-year-old boy left Monday at a Mississippi Goodwill donation center with only a note and a change of clothes was not abandoned by his mother but rather left there by a man who tried to prostitute her, the mom has said.
The woman, Antoinette Smith, said she had no intention of leaving the child, whom she identified as Sergio, according to a Facebook Live interview she gave over the phone to an activist from the woman's hometown of Memphis, reports Memphis TV station WREG.
Smith said that on Sunday, she had traveled from Memphis to Nashville with a male acquaintance, leaving the child behind in Memphis with someone that she believed to be the man's sister. She said the man — whom she did not name — later revealed that the "sister" was actually his girlfriend.
“If I knew that, I said I wouldn’t have left my baby like that," Smith said.
She claimed the man, whom she did not identify, then left her at a Nashville store after she refused his demand that she work for him.
“He was like, ‘You better get out there and [prostitute]’ and all that type of stuff," she said. "I told him, ‘I’m not doing nothing.'"
The child, who authorities did not identify by name, was left around 9:40 a.m. Monday at a Goodwill donation center in Southaven, Mississippi, just across the state line south of Memphis, according to the Southaven Police Department.
Authorities said the child was left by a man wearing black jogging pants and a black cowboy hat, who left the scene on foot.
The toddler had with him a plastic grocery bag containing a note and some clothing, according to police.
An employee at the Goodwill center earlier told WREG that the man had said "the child's mother couldn't care for him" before leaving the premise.
The note left with the toddler reportedly read: "child abandoned … no phone number for mom."
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Surveillance cameras in the area captured images of the man and a woman who authorities believe were involved in the incident.
At around 3:30 p.m. Monday, Southaven officers — aided by Shelby County, Tennessee, sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents in both Mississippi and Tennessee — apprehended one suspect in connection to the case after receiving numerous tips following a public appeal for information.
So far, that person's name or alleged connection to the case has not been released.
"At this time the investigation is still ongoing, no suspect information or charges are being released," Southaven Police Department Chief Macon Moore said in a statement Monday. "We would like to thank all of the citizens who showed concern for the child, rest assured he is well, and being taken care of and will be reunited with family when CPS determines this is proper."
"We would also like to thank all of the citizens who offered tips regarding the suspects in this case," he added. "The cooperation from the community and a unified effort from law enforcement led to the speedy apprehension of suspects."
"Goodwill learned that a two-year-old child was left at a Goodwill attended donation center," a spokesperson for Goodwill tells PEOPLE in a statement. "The child was accompanied by an adult who dropped the child off, but it is not known what relationship they have with the child. The safety of the child is our top priority and we are very sorry to hear about the circumstances of this young child."
The statement continued: "Upon knowing the child’s circumstances, we immediately reported the situation to police. Our security leaders are working closely with local authorities, including reviewing surveillance footage. At this time, the matter is an ongoing investigation with the police."
WREG reports the child was being held in the custody of Child Protective Services until Smith could return to the Memphis area, according to Memphis activist Barbara Buress, who conducted the Facebook Live interview, adding that she had arranged for Smith to be picked up in Nashville.