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CPD looking for missing child

Uncle charged with helping parents steal van

Posted: April 19, 2018 4:58 p.m.
Updated: April 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Provided by the CPD/

C-I ONLINE EXTRA: William Ray, wearing a ball cap to hide his baldness, is caught on a video surveillance image provided by the Camden Police Department at a North Carolina gas station where a woman reported seeing him, his wife and daughter on Tuesday morning.

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Two-year-old Dakota Day Ray, is considered to be a missing child even though she is thought to be with her parents. Dakota is considered missing because her parents -- William Eugene Ray, 43; and Jessica Louise Ray, 36 -- allegedly obtained custody of her in violation of a safety plan put in place by the S.C. Department of Social Services’ office in Kershaw County.

Dakota’s case is also a multi-state investigation because a woman in North Carolina contacted the Camden Police Department (CPD) saying she saw the family around 11 a.m. Tuesday and the van in which they are allegedly traveling at a gas station in that state.

“She said she saw all three of them, so they were still together,” CPD Chief Joe Floyd said Wednesday afternoon.

The CPD obtained a still image from inside a gas station showing William Ray at the counter, wearing a ball cap in an attempt to hide his true appearance. The CPD also shared an image of the tan 1996 Ford Aerostar van.

Meanwhile, as authorities continue looking for Dakota and her parents, the CPD has charged the little girl’s uncle, Johnny Lynn Ray, 46, of Maggie Avenue in east Camden, in connection with the case. He is charged with unlawful neglect of a child and being an accessory before the fact for grand larceny/motor vehicle theft.

The case stretches back a week to Thursday, April 12, and involved the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office. According to the CPD’s official report on Dakota being missing, county deputies called the Department of Social Services (DSS) to the Plantation Motel on U.S. 1 in east Camden. Citing information from the sheriff’s office, Floyd said William and Jessica Ray are known methamphetamine users. The CPD report states that DSS completed a temporary safety plan with William Ray and his brother.

Part of that plan stated that Dakota was to stay in her uncle’s custody until DSS finished its investigation. According to Floyd, that meant Johnny Ray was not supposed to leave Dakota alone with either of her parents.

Johnny Ray reportedly called DSS and left a message claiming he had dropped off his brother and niece at DSS’ office on Sunday night, then went to get some food and, when he returned, saw that William and Dakota Ray were gone. When DSS got back with Johnny Ray on Monday, he reportedly told caseworkers that his brother had convinced him DSS was going to turn Dakota back over to William and Jessica Ray and that’s why he had dropped them off.

Kershaw County DSS, located on East DeKalb Street inside the city limits, contacted the CPD on Monday afternoon. The agency obtained an ex parte order to remove Dakota from her parents’ custody on Tuesday morning. A hearing on the order was scheduled for Thursday morning.

Floyd said the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) did not issue an AMBER Alert because the agency did not believe Dakota was in imminent danger from her parents. There are five criteria, all of which must be met before an alert can be issued. The first criteria is, “The law enforcement agency believes that the child has been abducted -- taken from their environment unlawfully, without authority of law, and without permission from the child’s parent or legal guardian.”
In a comment on one of its Facebook posts about the case, the CPD stated that the “required criteria had not been met at this time.” That could leave the possibility open for an AMBER Alert to be issued if circumstances change.

CPD investigators interviewed Johnny Ray and realized, since DSS is closed on Sundays, that his story was a lie, Floyd said. Even if it had been true, Johnny Ray would have been breaking the terms of the temporary safety plan by allowing Dakota to be with her father alone. So, the CPD arrested Johnny Ray and charged him with unlawful neglect.

The investigation didn’t stop there, however. Realizing Johnny Ray had lied about how Dakota went missing, the CPD began looking into what else may have happened. As it turns out, there was overlap with another case.

On Wednesday, bondswoman Donna Davis reported that she noticed that a tan van being held as collateral had gone missing from her lot on Monday -- the same van the CPD believed the Rays were using. Davis told officers the van was being held as collateral in connection for previously bonding out William Ray.

According to online Kershaw County Clerk of Court records, Davis covered a $10,000 cash/surety bond on Oct. 25, 2017, after Ray’s arrest on an enhanced shoplifting charge levied by the CPD. William Ray had stolen his own van.

According to Floyd, investigators ended up obtaining surveillance footage of William Ray exiting a vehicle at Davis’ lot. They returned to the Kershaw County Detention Center and confronted Johnny Ray. Floyd said Johnny Ray admitted the car his brother exited was his, and that he had driven him to the lot so William could steal the van. Floyd said Johnny Ray also admitted to driving his brother to the east Camden Dollar General where William allegedly stole a license plate to put on the van. Investigators initially thought the plate was from Idaho, but -- and confirmed by the North Carolina witness -- later learned it was a South Carolina plate.

Floyd said Jessica Ray is not being charged in connection with the theft of the van.

Floyd also said that, after consulting with legal experts and the 5th Circuit Solicitors Office, the CPD decided not to draw warrants for kidnapping against the Rays because DSS had not obtained the ex parte order until after they disappeared with Dakota. Although DSS had created a safety plan granting temporary custody of Dakota to her uncle, without the ex parte order, William and Jessica Ray technically still had legal guardianship over their daughter.

In the CPD’s report, Dakota is described as weighing about 25 pounds and being 2 feet 6 inches tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. William Ray is described as 43 years of age, 6 feet 1 inches tall and weighing 340 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. Jessica Ray, 36, is described as being 5 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 112 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. Their last known address, aside from the Plantation Motel, was also on Maggie Avenue, which is between the county airport and current Applied Technology Education Campus.

Anyone with information as to the Rays’ whereabouts should contact the CPD at (803) 425-6025.

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