A man wanted for questioning in the successful search for a missing 7-month-old girl in Bismarck has been arrested on unrelated warrants.
Cole Pfaff, 31, was taken into custody about 10 p.m. Tuesday on warrants for back child support and failure to pay fines, Lt. Luke Gardiner said Wednesday. Officers received a tip that Pfaff had been sleeping in the back of a camper on East Bowen Avenue.
Pfaff was not considered a suspect in the disappearance Monday of 7-month-old LeahMae Dawn Morsette. Police began looking for the girl after her mother, Dawn Morsette, 27, was unable to provide information about her whereabouts to officers who responded to a welfare check. Morsette, who did tell officers that Pfaff might have the child, eventually was arrested on a child neglect charge.
After fruitless searches late Monday and early Tuesday, police issued an Amber Alert early Tuesday afternoon, and someone dropped off the child at the Sanford Health emergency room a couple of hours later. Police said she was safe and doing well.
The woman who dropped off the baby was not identified as a suspect nor will she be charged, according to police Detective Mike Bolme.
"We spoke to her (Tuesday) night, and basically I just thanked her for returning the baby," he said.
Police are still investigating what happened to the baby from the time she was officially declared missing to the time she was dropped off at Sanford _ a span of about 19 hours.
The relationship between Pfaff and Morsette isn't clear. Police Chief Dave Draovitch said authorities verified through video and a witness that he was the last person known to have had the girl on Monday. He was not suspected of a crime, but Draovitch said before Pfaff's arrest that police still wanted to talk to him.
Morsette made her initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon on felony charges of child neglect and preventing arrest, and Judge John Grinsteiner set her bond at $2,500. She was not listed on the jail roster at the Burleigh Morton Detention Center on Wednesday morning. Court documents do not list an attorney for her.
Morsette has a previous child neglect conviction from 2015 in Burleigh County. In that case, she pleaded guilty to leaving children ages 3 and 5 unattended in a vehicle for more than half an hour on a 75-degree day, with the front windows of the black vehicle rolled halfway down, according to a police affidavit. One child complained to officers of feeling sick, and had pants that were damp from sweat and a forehead that was hot to the touch. Morsette refused to seek further medical attention for the children beyond a check of vital signs done by an ambulance crew, the affidavit said.
Court documents show Morsette was placed on probation and later sent to prison for a year and three months after her probation was revoked. It wasn't clear how much time she actually spent behind bars.
The two children live with their father's family on or near the Turtle Mountain Reservation, according to Dawn Morsette's father, Jerome Morsette.
Officials from Child Protection Services took LeahMae from the hospital when she was released about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, he said. It was unclear to him what the next steps would be for the baby. His feelings on Wednesday were of gratitude, he said, after the family went from fearing the loss of the child to getting a phone call that she was at the hospital. The family prayed and their prayers were answered, he said.
"It was a weight off a person's mind and shoulders, because that weight was pretty exhausting," he said.
Assistant Burleigh County State's Attorney Mindy Anderson said during Dawn Morsette's court hearing Tuesday that she had been told by police Morsette appeared to be under the influence of methamphetamine when police contacted her about the baby Monday. Morsette hasn't been charged with a drug crime, but one of the conditions of her bond is that she wear a drug patch. Jerome Morsette told The Bismarck Tribune that his daughter has an addiction problem and needs help.
Tribune reporters Blair Emerson and Miranda Stambler contributed to this story.