APOPKA, Fla. - A missing child alert was canceled Thursday for an 11-year-old Apopka boy after he was found safe in North Carolina, officials said.
Howard Darden was last seen Tuesday in the 2600 block of Lakeville Road near Piedmont Lakes Middle School in Apopka, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.
Thursday evening, authorities said Darden was found in North Carolina with his mother, 45-year-old Angela Darden.
A couple who had learned about Howard Darden's disappearance on a TV newscast located the missing boy outside a North Carolina shopping mall around 7:15 p.m.
According to investigators, the couple noticed the Florida license plate on Angela Darden's yellow VW Beetle, which had been spray-painted black.
Elizabeth City police found the 11-year-old boy inside the car uninjured. They later located his mother inside the mall.
Deputies said Angela Darden had removed her son from school at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday without his father's permission.
According to deputies, Angela Darden was on GPS monitoring for an aggravated stalking incident involving the child's father. Within hours of taking the child from school, Darden cut off her ankle bracelet, deputies said.
The equipment removal notified authorities and the child's father.
The Sheriff's Office said Angela Darden and the child's father had obtained court orders in different jurisdictions, with each order granting full custody to the requesting parent. Darden was scheduled to appear at a hearing Wednesday morning, but when she failed to appear, her custody of the child expired, deputies said.
"A middle school child was released to a parent who was under court orders to have no contact with her children," said Woody Rodriguez, General Counsel of the District. "The parent presented the school employee with her ID and alleged to have court papers that provided her with authority. It appears this parent is in violation of the court order and is being sought by the authorities."
Late Wednesday night, according to deputies, Angela Darden sent a very concerning text message to a family member. Deputies said Angela Darden has a history of instability and the child was believed to be in danger.
"In this case, the employee is under investigation for releasing the child to the parent," said Shari Bobinksi of OCPS. "The employee is not working at the front desk."
Angela Darden was arrested and charged with violating a court order. Investigators said additional charges may be filed. She was booked into the Pasquotank County Jail in Elizabeth City, N.C. on Thursday night and will be extradited at an undetermined time to Seminole County, where she will have a first appearance on grand theft charges and violating probation.
Howard Darden was placed in the custody of social services and is expected to be returned to his father on Friday.
Local 6 spoke to Howard's father who said he's relieved his son was found safe.
"I don't have any ill will against the school, mainly because I know how Angela is," his father said. "She's elegant. She's great with her words. She saw an opportunity."
According to school records, Angela Darden was accused of stalking and harassing students and threatening to kill a teacher in 2007. As a result, her daughter, the school valedictorian, was not allowed to give her graduation speech live, leading the protests at Jones High School.
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