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Kidnapped toddler spends first full day home with family

Updated:

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ A toddler kidnapped by a stranger on Christmas Eve spent Saturday playing with her 3-year-old sister and enjoying the newly opened toys that were waiting for her underneath the Christmas tree.

``It just felt good to have her home,'' said Marcella Anderson, 21. ``I wouldn't want to go through it again. I wouldn't want anyone else to go through it and I hope nobody does.''

Sixteen-month-old Jasmine Anderson was kidnapped from a Chicago bus terminal and, after a nationwide manhunt, police found healthy in West Virginia on Thursday.

The mother and daughter were reunited at Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va., and returned home to Milwaukee on Friday night. The girl's alleged abductor, who the FBI said had taken children at least twice before, was arrested.

Sheila Matthews appeared in federal court in Charleston, W.Va., Friday on kidnapping charges. She faces a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted.

According to the FBI, Matthews pleaded guilty in 1998 to kidnapping a toddler she had been baby-sitting in Seattle. The 3-year-old was found unharmed a month after she disappeared from a Seattle motel where her father had taken her to play with another child Matthews was watching. Matthews was sentenced to 5 1/2 months in jail.

Earlier this year, Matthews pleaded guilty to an attempted forgery charge after she was found in Seattle with a Chicago boy, the FBI's Seattle office said. However, Matthews was not charged with kidnapping in that case. An FBI spokeswoman said she could not say why.

``There was a child in the house that was determined not to be her child,'' said Robbie Burroughs, an FBI spokeswoman in Seattle. ``The child was returned to the parent in Chicago.''

Nancy Matthews, the grandmother who had raised Sheila Matthews since she was 2, asked for understanding in an interview Friday.

``My heart bleeds for her,'' she said. ``She's a good girl. She'd give you the shirt off her back. She just got up with the wrong bunch.''

Marcella Anderson was smiling and teary-eyed when she arrived at Chicago's Midway Airport with Jasmine. She rushed into a private conference room at a hangar to hug her waiting mother and brother.

Jasmine appeared somewhat bewildered by the mass of reporters who gathered for a news conference.

Anderson on Saturday said she was grateful for the media attention that helped find her little girl, but she wanted the gaggle of reporters that has trailed her for days to go away.

``I'd like to get back to normal,'' Anderson told WTMJ-TV of Milwaukee.

According to police, Matthews went to the Chicago bus station on Monday night looking to abduct a child she would claim as her own.

Police said Matthews had falsely told her boyfriend she had given birth while he was in prison. When the boyfriend was released, she told him her mother was caring for the baby in Chicago, police said.

Anderson said she and her two daughters were waiting at the bus station to return to Milwaukee when a woman offered to give them a ride and hold Jasmine while she got her bus tickets refunded. Anderson said she was waiting in line when the woman disappeared with the child.

According to police, Matthews and her boyfriend took the toddler to the home of one of his relatives in a Chicago suburb Christmas Day. On Wednesday, the couple traveled with Jasmine to West Virginia.

The boyfriend's family spotted a photograph of Jasmine on television and called police.

The boyfriend, Dewallis Cortez Harris, was questioned and released.
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