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Police in Gaston County said they were shocked to find a toddler barefoot and alone quarter of a mile from his home.
Several drivers spotted the 3-year-old on Saturday and called 911.
Children's toys and a bicycle were outside Crystal Rice's Ranlo home, but police said her two children have been taken from her.
Police Chief Tim Alexander told WSOC several drivers called 911 after seeing the boy barefoot and alone.
"There is a little toddler out here by himself. I don't know where his parents are,” the caller said. “He is just out here by himself. My mom just went to go get him. He's going towards the road."
Police said Rice told them she gave her 3-year-old permission to walk to his grandmother’s house. To do that would mean he would have to cross a public street, but police said he went in the opposite direction, down a dead end road, through the woods and to the back of Warlick Academy.
"What the officer did was have the boy walk him back to his house and left his patrol car parked," said Alexander.
WSOC spoke to the boy's grandmother, who defended that mother, asking if Rice normally allows her son to walk alone.
"No, she doesn't, and I told her to never do that again,” his grandmother Gail Perkins said.
Police said in the 30 minutes officers spent investigating, Rice never called 911.
"She did not alert us," said Alexander. "We never received a call from the mother that the child had been missing or that the child was gone."
Rice faces a child abuse charge, and her children are in Department of Social Services custody.
Ranlo police told WSOC they are familiar with Rice. They have arrested her in the past on charges of larceny and resisting police.
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