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Patrick child found safe
Father surrenders to Kentucky State Police
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Tommy Lee Able Engle

Thursday, August 7, 2014

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The man sought in an alleged parental abduction case and Patrick County sheriff’s officers exchanged about 30 phone calls and text messages over about 12 hours before he agreed to surrender, according to Patrick Sheriff Dan Smith.

“It was a huge relief,” Smith said Wednesday, about three hours after Tommy Lee Travis Engle was taken into custody in Pikeville, Kentucky, and his 3-year-old son, Tommy Lee Able Engle, was found safe.

The child was believed to have been with his father Friday in Critz, but initially he was not believed to be in danger, Smith said. However, by Tuesday, officers had information that led them to suspect that Tommy Lee Travis Engle, 34, was armed and unstable, Smith said.

An AMBER Alert was issued at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday for the child, according to a Patrick County Sheriff’s Office news release.

The senior Engle has ties to North Carolina and family in Kentucky, so the sheriff’s office worked with authorities in both states to attempt to locate him, Smith said.

On Tuesday and into Wednesday, Smith said Engle traveled from Asheville, N.C., back into Virginia, up to Bluefield and then to Pikeville.

Shortly after midnight Wednesday, Engle contacted Smith and Deputy Steve Austin, the case investigator, Smith said. Engle was aware of the AMBER Alert, the sheriff added.

“I think he contacted me because he found out the AMBER Alert focused around him,” Smith said. “We had been attempting to get him to call throughout the weekend. We had given our contact information to a mutual acquaintance to get Engle to talk to us. He never contacted us until the AMBER Alert” was issued.

Smith, Austin and Engle talked and exchanged text messages probably 30 times between early Wednesday and the arrest at 12:50 p.m. Wednesday, Smith said.

“He assured us the child was OK. ... He let us talk to the child. He sent us pictures of the child” and assured the officers that the child was not in danger, Smith said. “We felt better about the situation after talking with him.”

All the calls were initiated by Engle, Smith said. Engle hung up on the officers several times and then called back. If the officers tried to call him, Engle did not answer, Smith said.

“I think a lot of times when they hang up when trying to negotiate, it is their attempt to show they’re in control,” Smith said, explaining that he and his officers are trained to conduct such negotiations. “You have to be patient and work through it.”

He added that Engle was calm and reasonable during the conversations.

Finally, “we were able to resolve this thing through dialogue,” Smith said. “We convinced him to turn himself in.”

Kentucky State Police representatives were contacted, and officers arrived to take Engle into custody, Smith said. Engle was “near family,” and the child was with him, unharmed, the sheriff said.

The boy is in Kentucky with family members. Smith said whether he will return to Virginia will be determined by juvenile and domestic relations court officials in both states.

Engle was not armed when he was taken into custody, Smith said, adding that he owned an AK-47.

Engle was being held in the Pike County, Kentucky, jail, on Wednesday afternoon on warrants issued in Patrick County for his arrest on malicious wounding and strangulation charges.

Those charges were filed after Patrick sheriff’s officers responded to a domestic disturbance call Friday night in Critz, the news release stated. The child’s mother was the alleged victim, it added.

Smith said if Engle were to waive extradition, he could be returned to Patrick County and held in the jail there Wednesday night or today to face the two felony charges.

The alleged abduction case remained under investigation, and no charges had been filed in it Wednesday, Smith said.

When officers arrived at the Critz home on Friday night, Engle and the boy had left the scene, according to the release.

Smith said police were assured at that time by independent sources familiar with the situation at the home that Engle would not hurt his son.

However, the sheriff’s office received information Monday and earlier Tuesday that Engle allegedly might have been armed with an AK-47 and may have had a ballistics vest, according to the AMBER Alert system website. Also, Smith said officers learned that Engle was suicidal and allegedly had made threats toward law enforcement in the past.

Smith said at least a dozen local, state and federal agencies worked on the case.


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