From Whispers to Roars

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

4-year-old Haylee Donathan, subject of national search, found in Valley Center

4-year-old, subject of national search, found in Valley Center

By Kristina Davis, Union-Tribune Staff Writer

9:43 p.m. June 23, 2009

SAN DIEGO – A 4-year-old Ohio girl who was the subject of a nationwide search was found safe in Valley Center Tuesday, and her mother and the mother's boyfriend were arrested, authorities said.

Sheriff's deputies, acting on a tip, arrested wanted sex offender Robbi Potter, 27, and his girlfriend Candace Watson, 24, about 3 p.m. at a Christian retreat on Keys Creek Road, authorities said.

The couple had been on the run with Watson's daughter, Haylee Donathan, for the past month.

According to the U.S. Marshal's Service, Potter had recently been released from prison after serving time for sexual battery on a minor and was not allowed to be around children. He was living at a halfway house until he walked away on May 30 and disappeared with Watson and Haylee.

On Tuesday afternoon, a resident at the retreat and rehabilitation center, Morning Star Ranch, was driving in the Los Angeles area and saw a billboard with photos of the missing girl and the fugitives, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo. He immediately recognized them from the ranch, as well as the photo of their pickup truck.

He called the ranch's manager, and the manager verified the photos and license plate. He then called 911 and deputies found the family shortly after.

Haylee seemed to be in good spirits, although she appeared to have suffered a possible light case of the chicken pox, Castillo said. She will be handed over to her grandmother.

Castillo said the family had been staying at the ranch for about a week, and may have even visited the Wild Animal Park three days ago, according to another tipster who called authorities.

Kristina Davis: (619) 542-4591;

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