SEBRING — A missing child is a parent’s worst nightmare and that’s exactly what happened to a woman in Sebring on Monday evening. A 21-year-old woman was in the Subway store and actually witnessed her car being stolen with her children inside of it. The children were later found unharmed.

Shauna Marie McGraw, 36, of Sebring was arrested the same evening and faces charges of vehicle theft, child neglect without serious bodily harm and two counts of kidnapping.

According to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, the unnamed mother left her children, a 2-year-old boy and a 6-month-boy in the car to get food about 7:30 p.m. She told deputies the children were in the back seat with the car motor running.

While in the Subway at 6225 U.S. 27 North, the mother constantly looked at the car, the arrest report said. The mother did not see McGraw enter her Honda but did see it drive away and immediately made the 911 call.

McGraw said she knew the children were in the car before getting into it but after a fight with her boyfriend at a nearby gas station, she had to “get away,” the HCSO press release stated.

After a drive on U.S. 27, the car was found abandoned, along with the children, parked behind Captain Hawk Designs at 6940 U.S. 27 N., according to HCSO.

McGraw fled on foot. Fortunately, Nakeem Brown, who used to be a HCSO deputy, alerted HCSO and followed her down U.S. 27 until the deputies arrived.

According to the arrest report, McGraw’s fiancé was able to contact her by phone and it was determined where she left the car and kids.

“I want to thank Nakeem Brown for his assistance,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said in a press release. “Not only did he call us when he saw the suspect, he went above and beyond and followed her, leading deputies to her location. The deputies of Charlie Squad did a great job of responding to this and resolving it so quickly, and I am very proud of the work they did.”

Blackman also thanked the local businesses for their assistance as well as the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for their willingness to help.

“I also want to thank the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, who had their helicopter in the air and on the way to assist us when the car and suspect were located and also the many businesses in the area that had security cameras and gave us quick access to the footage that assisted us in our investigation,” he said.

The sheriff also reiterated the importance of security.

“This incident shows why you should always lock your car when you are not in it. This could have turned out much, much worse,” Blackman said. “While we could charge the mother of the children for leaving them in the car unattended, I think it’s safe to say she learned a valuable lesson from this and will never do that again.”

McGraw is being held without bond in the Highlands County Jail.

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