Olivia Fitzgerald, 8, and Kodie Higdon, 7, found something that investigators, divers and high-tech equipment couldn't - the shackles that couldn't restrain Tamika Bumpass.
On New Year's Day, Olivia and her neighbor and Euchee Creek Elementary School classmate stumbled across the cuffs discarded by Bumpass in April 2002 after she overtook and shot Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Glenda Shelton and hijacked a truck.
The second-graders weren't on an investigative mission when they made their find by a pond near Olivia's house in Harlem.
"Kodie stepped on them," Olivia said.
Kodie didn't know what he found. He thought maybe it was Christmas decorations.
But Olivia knew immediately.
"I was cleaning off around the banks so we'd have a place to fish this spring," Olivia's father, P.K., said. "(Olivia and Kodie) were going behind me looking for these freshwater mussel shells on the bank. All of a sudden, they started hollering, 'We found the handcuffs."'
The children discovered the belly-chain system, which included handcuffs and an attached chain that goes around an inmate's waist, sticking out of the water along the shallow bank. The water level has dropped some since the incident, Fitzgerald said, and the cuffs had partially sunk into the muddy bottom.
The Fitzgeralds got involved in the search for Bumpass, who originally was in custody on forgery and identity theft charges, shortly after her escape. Fitzgerald saw her in the stolen truck on his Wrightsboro Road property, tried to follow her and alerted police to her location. He never saw Bumpass turn onto the small access road to the pond, which is only 50 yards from his home.
Olivia Fitzgerald, 8, and Kodie Higdon, 7, hold the handcuffs that Tamika Bumpass was wearing when she escaped from a Columbia County deputy. The cuffs were found in a pond on Wrightsboro Road.
Police and county scuba divers scoured Fitzgerald's pond for three days after Bumpass was captured, searching for the restraints that failed to contain the inmate.
Police and divers scoured Fitzgerald's pond for three days hunting for the restraints hoping they would provide clues to how Bumpass escaped.
When recovered, the cuffs were still locked, said sheriff's office Capt. Steve Morris.
"According to the sheriff, after carefully analyzing these restraints, he has concluded that Bumpass' hands were limber enough to pull her wrists through the openings," Morris said. "No key was utilized. Aside from the possibility that the officer may not have double-checked for snugness, the restraints were applied properly."
After three days of searching netted no cuffs, police gave up the search, but the Fitzgeralds did not. Olivia and her father continued the search with no luck, which made the discovery more than 1 1/2 years later such an accomplishment.
Fitzgerald took a photo of the children holding their find before turning the cuffs over to police.
A sheriff's office investigator and a deputy came out to retrieve the cuffs and personally thank Olivia and Kodie.
"They were really excited when it happened." Fitzgerald said. "They liked seeing (the officers) come out. They thanked them and all. They enjoyed it."
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