ANDERSON — Less than three years after Joshua Bates was sentenced to six years for a felony charge of sexual misconduct, he is charged with two kidnapping felonies, including one that involves a 7-year-old girl.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Department was contacted about 9:01 a.m. Sunday about a missing 7-year-old girl, according to a press release from Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger.

The child’s great-grandmother and guardian, Sharon Shreffler, reported that the child and 28-year-old Courtney Elisabeth Wells — Shreffler’s granddaughter and the child’s biological mother — were both missing from the home.

Shreffler said she checked on the little girl about 3 a.m. while the girl was sleeping in her bedroom. Later that morning when she checked on her great-granddaughter again, she found the girl was missing, along with Wells, Mellinger said in the press release.

“Complainant noticed a window unlocked in granddaughter’s room, blankets were gone, and she called 911,” Mellinger said.

Additional investigation revealed Wells and the little girl were likely traveling with Bates, who is Wells’ boyfriend, in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Bates is a registered sex offender.

“A cell phone signal indicated the suspects were possibly on Interstate 70 in eastern Ohio,” Mellinger said.

Police in Ohio and Pennsylvania were notified of the reported kidnapping, and troopers in Pennsylvania observed a vehicle matching the suspects about 1 p.m. on I-70.

Bates and Wells were taken into custody without incident, Mellinger said.

“With assistance from Indiana State Police, the 7-year-old victim was flown back to Madison County and reunited with her great-grandmother at approximately 10:45 p.m.,” he said.

The investigation continues, and both Bates and Wells have been charged with Level 5 felony kidnapping, Mellinger said.

“They will be extradited as soon as possible,” he said in the press release.

In September 2016, Bates was sentenced to six years at the Department of Correction, with four years executed and two years suspended for Class C felony sexual misconduct with a minor.

The four-year executed sentence was ordered to be served in the Continuum of Sanctions program through the Madison County Community Justice Center.

Bates, then 22, pleaded guilty to the sexual misconduct that had resulted in the birth of a child.

The victim in that case told authorities she had consensual sexual intercourse with Bates when she was 15 and a child was conceived from the relationship.

The girl told investigators Bates was aware of her age when they had intercourse; they had talked about her age several times, she said.

Bates told police he was afraid the girl’s parents might file charges against him.

Wells was charged with Level 5 felony burglary and Class A misdemeanor Feb. 26, 2019.

On June 28, 2019, Wells accepted a plea agreement and was sentenced to two years at the Indiana Department of Correction and three months for the theft charge. All counts ran concurrently for a total sentence of two years.

She was placed on one year of in-home detention, and one year of her sentence was suspended.

Both Bates and Wells were on probation and did not have permission to leave the state.

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Staff writer

An ink slinging wordsmith with The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana. Writing about news that is changing people's lives. Have a news tip? Send it to traci.miller@heraldbulletin.com or call me at 765-640-4805.

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