Woman charged with kidnapping arrested in Tennessee
A woman wanted in Lee County for kidnapping at least two of her children was arrested Wednesday in Tennessee by the U.S. Marshals Smokey Mountains Task Force.
Melissa Lynn Hopkins, 40, also known as Melissa Blackwell, Teresa Castillo and Melissa Kemper, was arrested about 2 p.m. in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., according to a press release from the marshals service. Hopkins faces two felonies when she is extradited from Tennessee to Florida.
Six children ranging in age from 3 to 17 were with her and taken into protective custody, said W. Warren Mays, supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal for Eastern Tennessee in Knoxville.
It was not clear who fathered the other four children found with Hopkins.
All the children were in good condition when located, Mays said.
The warrant for Hopkins’ arrest was issued Sept. 15, according to the release.
The search for Hopkins began last year by two of the children’s father, Victor Valentino, who lives in Cape Coral, according to a Lee County Sheriff’s Office incident report filed July 28 of this year.
Hopkins had custody of the couple’s two children and in July 2009 moved to Orlando. Valentino had visitation through the Tennessee courts granting him one week visitation each month. After Hopkins moved to Orlando, Valentino drove to an Orlando police station where the couple was to exchange the children.
He last saw the two in October and was to get them in December, but Hopkins failed to arrive. He hired a private investigator to locate Hopkins, but the search was unsuccessful, according to the Lee County report.
Valentino said Hopkins was a “member of the address confidentiality program for the Office of the Attorney General” so she could use a fake address in Tallahassee.
A Florida Attorney General’s spokeswoman said the address is a false one for people who are victims of domestic violence. The victims use the address and mail is forwarded to them.
On April 23, Valentino contacted a program coordinator who said Hopkins was no longer in the program and they did not know her whereabouts. It was not clear why she was in the program.
The Attorney General’s spokeswoman confirmed the coordinator works in the office’s program.
At some point Hopkins gave a judge a post office box in Orlando where she received mail.
At first, according to the Sheriff’s Office, the case was civil but became criminal after Valentino showed he tried to visit his children on March 20, April 17 and April 24 in Orlando and had law enforcement officers with him, according to Lee County Sheriff’s Office reports and Sgt. Stephanie Eller. Hopkins never arrived at the meeting place on any of the occasions.
On April 12, Valentino asked the Lee County courts to give him sole custody of the children. On April 21 Judge J. Simpson signed an order to have the children removed from Hopkins and given to Valentino, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.
According to what Valentino told Lee deputies:
A hearing was set for April 29 to discuss the order, but Hopkins failed to appear.
On April 23, she filed a motion to vacate the order and move jurisdiction to Osceola County.
On June 23, Simpson signed a warrant for Hopkins to be taken into custody and reveal where the children were staying.
Valentino told deputies he feared because the warrant for Hopkins arrest was not entered into state and national databases that Hopkins had fled to Tennessee. The deputy confirmed it was not entered into the national database because it was a civil warrant, according to the Lee County report. In Florida, the only civil warrants entered into the national databases are for failure to pay child support.
At some point Hopkins sent Valentino an e-mail stating she never received notices from Lee County courts about hearing dates, but acknowledged she was aware of the order to give the children to Valentino. That is why she filed the motion on April 23.
Valentino did not return calls Thursday from comment. It was not clear if his two children had been returned to him.