New details are coming to light in the disturbing case of 6-year-old Paislee Shultis‘ apparent kidnapping. And it shows just how disturbingly easy it can be for missing children to be lost in the system.
As we’ve previously reported, Shultis was four years old when she was reported missing back on July 13, 2019, from Cayuga Heights, New York. From the very start, investigators believed the young girl was taken by her non-custodial parents, 32-year-old Kirk Shultis Jr. and 33-year-old Kimberly Cooper (both pictured above, inset). The pair had lost custody of the girl earlier that year.
In February, then, police found the young girl in a “dark and wet” room underneath the stairs of a house in upstate New York. It appeared as though she had been living under the hidden crawl space in the stairs inside an “intricate, secret apartment in the basement with escape routes to the backyard.”
Upon discovering Shultis in the secret crawl space, investigators charged both parents as well as Kirk Shultis’ father, Kirk Shultis Sr. (pictured above, right, walking into court with Shultis Jr. and the family’s lawyer), with custodial interference and endangering the welfare of a child. All three parties pleaded not guilty to the charges at the time of their filing.
So how did this poor girl get found? Wading through the story, it’s something of a miracle…
For one, according to court documents obtained by The Sun, it appears as though a simple missed court date led to the momentum of the entire investigation being directed towards the two non-custodial parents. Per the outlet, two days before the girl’s 2019 disappearance, Kimberly had been scheduled to appear in town court in the city of Cayuga Heights over traffic violations levied against her earlier that year.
Cooper had previously missed a June court appearance on the matter, and then later missed a third court date in November of 2019. That third delinquency led to a warrant officially being issued for her arrest, and that’s when local cops took a deeper look into her whereabouts and background. Then they first found a separate warrant for her arrest regarding a missed family court appearance in nearby Tioga County, New York.
Upon discovering more about Cooper’s connections, investigators keyed in on Paislee’s father, Kirk Shultis Jr., who they quickly determined was facing a felony fraud charge in another state at the time of her kidnapping back in 2019. Per The Sun, cops in Cayuga Heights determined that Shultis had been named in an outstanding warrant in Athens Township, Pennsylvania — a small town right on the New York State border — in connection with “sketchy business practices.”
In that case, officers tracked down Shultis and extradited him to Pennsylvania, where court docs show he pleaded guilty, served “a couple of months” in local jail, and was paroled in January of 2020 — all events that took place after police now believe Shultis and Cooper kidnapped Paislee and hid her away in that makeshift secret basement.
After Shultis was released from being held in Pennsylvania, officers in the New York cities of Cayuga Heights and Saugerties went to work on tracking down Cooper through his connection. According to the court docs, in April 2020, officers reportedly contacted Shultis’ parole officer and noted that Cooper’s child — Paislee — was “in the process” of being removed from her. One stated:
“I advised of K. Cooper’s outstanding warrants, including the potential for having a child that was in the process of being taken away by Tioga County DSS and Sheriff’ s Office. … claimed he had no contact with Kim in months. Shultis then stated to Saugerties PD that she is aware of the warrants and is ‘couch surfing’ somewhere in the Spencer area. No further leads at this time.”
Police were unable to track down the whereabouts of Paislee Shultis over the next two years, even though they checked out several tips at one particular residence of Shultis and Cooper.
That is, until a reporter from NBC New York phoned in a tip in February of this year that the girl might have been missing in the area around Saugerties. The city’s police chief, Joseph Sinagra, called the tip “ripe and corroborated,” and explained more in the report about how they put together the case following that information:
“The name Shultis rang a bell. I did an Internet search of the incident based on what was relayed to me by . Upon doing so, I found that the child was reported taken in July of 2019 by her non-custodial mother and father Kimberly and Kirk Shultis, who are both known to this department. Further search of CHPD records shows Kimberly as having an active Bench warrant out of Cayuga Heights Court under her maiden name of Kimberly A. Cooper.”
So through that one active bench warrant on the traffic violations of all things, police were able to finally obtain a search warrant for the house where Shultis and Cooper were staying. And it was there that they discovered Paislee hidden in that makeshift compartment underneath the stairs.
What a long, difficult story. So many spots where Paislee could have gotten lost in the shuffle. If just one of these government workers hadn’t been on the ball, we shudder to think what might have become of her!
We’re just glad the little girl has been found and returned to safer quarters, and we hope for justice to run its course swiftly and fairly.
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