Paradise, MI – A massive multiagency manhunt resulted in the rescue of a 5-year-old boy who had been kidnapped by a convicted sex offender on Wednesday.
Police intercepted the boy’s two abductors as they tried to escape with the child across the ice of Lake Superior, on their way to Canada, MLive reported.
The incident began at approximately 7:10 p.m. at a residence in the 9000-block of North Whitefish Point Road, according to WJRT.
Chippewa County deputies were summonsed to the home after 53-year-old Stephen Cunningham and his accomplice, 68-year-old Jon Scott Stygler, showed up and confronted a female outside, WWTV reported.
The men tied the woman up and gagged her, then stuffed her into the trunk of a car.
They stormed inside, where they encountered four children and an adult male, police said.
The suspects subdued the group with knives and chemical spray, then bound them with zip-ties.
During the melee, one of the victims managed to break free, and stabbed one of the men, WWTV reported.
Cunningham and Stygler then kidnapped 5-year-old Zephaniau George Cunningham from the home, and fled the scene in a camouflage 1986 Ford F-250 pickup.
Cunningham, a convicted sex offender out on parole, is Zephaniau’s biological father, police said.
He was convicted of three counts gross sexual imposition with a victim under 13 in 2015, and has been designated as a Tier 3 Level sex offender, The Sault News reported.
Cunningham cut off his GPS tethering monitor just before the kidnapping, MLive reported.
“We are warning the residents in that area to be cautious for anyone approaching their residence,” the sheriff’s office said in a social media alert just before 11 p.m., according to the news outlet. “The suspects are ARMED AND DANGEROUS.”
Police said they believed the suspects were “somewhat trapped” in the area because “there is no outlet this time of year,” and asked for the public to call 911 immediately if they had any information that could help lead to the boy’s safe return.
The sheriff’s office issued an Amber Alert, and began searching for the little boy with the assistance of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan State Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the U.S. Border Patrol, Whitefish Township EMS, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Sault News reported.
Just before midnight, investigators located the suspects’ abandoned vehicle, and discovered they had taken Zephaniau to a residence on Whitefish Bay, MLive reported.
The men had already fled from the residence with the boy in tow, and took off on foot across the ice, WWTV reported.
Michigan Conservation Officer Cpl. Kevin Postma and Conservation Officer Calvin Smith followed their tracks on snowmobiles, and apprehended the duo approximately two miles onto the ice, heading towards Canada.
Zephaniau was unharmed during the ordeal, and was transported to a local hospital to be evaluated, MLive reported.
“I would like to personally thank all the LE Officers involved in tonight’s child abduction,” Chippewa County Sheriff Michael Bitnar said in a statement. “I love to see all the police agencies working together. This is what it is all about.”
Cunningham and Stygler have been charged with assault, kidnapping, child endangerment, and home invasion, and additional charges may be forthcoming.