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Warrants say missing girl was abused at her home

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

SALISBURY Before she was last reported seen in 2011, family members suspected Erica Parsons was being abused, according to search warrants released Thursday.

The girl’s parents always seemed to be punishing her, according to statements by family members in the warrants. She rarely interacted with extended family and frequently had bumps and bruises, they said.

At one point, her adoptive mother, Casey Parsons, made the girl stay with a relative for eight months after “(Parsons) lost control and beat her,” a family member said. But her parents retrieved Erica because they worried that the Department of Social Services would cut off financial aid for Erica’s care, according to the warrants

The court documents indicate Erica’s two-year disappearance may be the result of foul play. They also reveal what investigators see as holes in the statements of Casey Parsons and her husband, Sandy, regarding what happened to their daughter.

Erica – who was 13 when she was last seen by anyone outside the family – was reported missing two weeks ago. Her 20-year-old adoptive brother, James, filed a missing persons report on July 30 after a dispute in which he was kicked out of the family’s home.

During an extensive search of the Parsonses’ house on Wednesday, investigators took pieces of wall and flooring that they believe could contain blood stains and collected two knives wrapped in plastic, according to one warrant.

They also found books and magazines about JonBenet Ramsey, a child beauty queen found murdered in her Colorado home in 1996.

No one has been charged in the disappearance of Erica, who was adopted as a baby.

Her adoptive parents have been questioned several times by authorities. They have told investigators and members of the media that Erica went to stay with her grandmother in Asheville in 2011. But investigators say they found nothing to back up those claims.

Allegations of abuse

The search warrants released Thursday say investigators found multiple allegations of abuse in statements by the Parsonses’ children and at least one extended family member.

“These statements also described consistently seeing bruises and bumps on Erica’s arms and legs that made (witnesses) feel Erica was being struck by family members,” a warrant says. “Casey always blamed these marks on another child in the family.”

One child reported to investigators seeing Casey Parsons hit Erica with a toy gun so hard that the toy broke.

Another family member told investigators that Casey Parsons said she couldn’t “stand to look at Erica.”

The Parsonses’ attorney, Sherrill Carlyle, dismissed claims in the court documents, saying they were the efforts of investigators trying to get a judge to approve search warrants.

“Anything anybody says, they can stick in there to try to get probable cause,” Carlyle told a group of reporters on Thursday. “We don’t put any trust in them at all.”

He said the allegations were having a negative impact on the Parsonses. Casey Parsons was hospitalized at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center on Wednesday after emergency surgery on her stomach, Carlyle said.

70 pieces of evidence

The investigators – Rowan County Sheriff’s deputies, members of the State Bureau of Investigation and FBI – spent most of Wednesday searching the Parsonses’ one-story tan home and their 2005 Dodge Caravan.

By the time they concluded the search just before midnight, they had removed more than 70 pieces of evidence, including bank statements and computer equipment.

They partly dismantled a deck in the backyard and moved an above-ground pool, though it’s unclear if they dug on the property or used other measures to probe beneath the soil. They also took documentation regarding construction of a water well earlier this year.

They focused extensively on one bedroom – removing a piece of drywall in the closet area and a piece of flooring that contained suspected blood stains. They swabbed the wall inside a closet, behind an entry door and near a television.

The warrants show investigators were also looking for the missing girl’s DNA in order to make future comparisons, and they removed a white envelope labeled Erica’s teeth. They also took three pillows.

Investigators took some personal effects – letters from Erica’s biological mother, correspondence between Casey and Sandy Parsons, photographs, school papers and a diary.

Disputed claims

The search warrants also detail what investigators see as holes in the Parsonses’ story about what happened to Erica.

Casey and Sandy Parsons claim that in 2011 they traveled with their biological daughter, Brook, to Asheville, so Erica could stay with her biological grandmother, Irene Goodman, who was also known as “Nana.”

But when Brook was interviewed recently, “she said she did not accompany her parents when they took Erica to deliver her to Irene Goodman,” according to the warrants.

The search warrants also say the couple couldn’t provide an address or phone number for the grandmother. Casey Parsons said she’d contacted Irene Goodman via Facebook but was unable to show investigators messages or a Facebook page.

They were also unable to say where they dropped Erica off in Asheville.

The couple did concede that they had continued to get financial aid from the state of North Carolina after Erica left, a detail confirmed by their attorney on Thursday.

They continued taking money “since they were legally responsible over her,” Carlyle said.

“They hadn’t transferred the responsibility for her. They considered Erica to be coming back anytime.”

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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