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Mom who staged girl's disappearance must pay restitution

A Gresham woman who hid her 6-year-old daughter in a motel room before falsely reporting the girl missing, was sentenced Wednesday, May 8, to 45 days in jail and must pay for the $26,000 investigation.

Sara Lea Edmond, 30, of Gresham pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal custodial interference, initiating a false police report and tampering with physical evidence before Multnomah County District Court Michael McShane. by: COURTESY: MULTNOMAH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE - Sara Lea Edmond

An assortment of other charges, including criminal mistreatment, child neglect, disorderly conduct, improper use of the emergency reporting system, obstructing government or judicial administration and attempted custodial interference were dismissed.

In addition to jail time, McShane sentenced the woman to three years of probation, to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment, and to repay the costs of the nearly 12-hour search and police investigation.

Prosecutor Ryan Lufkin said the total cost is $26,361.25. That does not include the 483 volunteer hours worked by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office search and rescue team.

Edmond reported her daughter missing from their Gresham apartment complex at 1072 S.E. Highway 26 at about 3:15 p.m. Saturday, April 13.

She told police that after returning from girl's baseball game at North Gresham Grade School they returned home and the girl left at about 2:15 p.m. for a playdate with a friend in the same complex. She never arrived.

Gresham police officers, Troutdale police, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police searched the complex and nearby areas before widening their search. They tracked the mother to a hotel room in the 500 block of Northeast Burnside Road, where at 2:45 a.m. Sunday, April 14, they found Edmond. Her daughter was hiding under the bed, but was otherwise safe and in good health.

During her sentencing hearing, Edmond covered her face with a paper but expressed remorse and regret.

"She has insight about what happened and is doing her best to take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again," said Stephanie Pollan, Edmond's defense attorney.

Edmond was separated from her husband, Marc Welch, 31, of Gresham, and the two were engaged in a custody dispute over their daughter.

Shortly before the staged disappearance, Edmond received an evaluator's parental assessment that was less than ideal. Fearful her husband would gain full custody of their daughter, she acted out of desperation to hide the girl from him.

Edmond has no criminal record, has a master's degree in drug and alcohol counseling and was working three jobs when she was arrested.

She hopes to return to counseling after serving her sentence, Pollan said.

The girl is now living with her father. Long-term custody has yet to be determined.

Edmond considers the order to pay restitution part of her effort to take responsibility for her actions, Pollan said.

It's the second time in recent memory that the Gresham Police Department has sought and been awarded restitution, said Chief Craig Junginger.

In December of 2011, a Gresham woman was ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution to the Gresham Police Department for police overtime costs associated with the investigation into her false report that she was raped during broad daylight at a local shopping center.

Junginger said court-orders to pay restitution are especially important during these times of ever tightening budgets and send a powerful message to the community: "That if you file false police reports we will not only seek criminal sanctions against the person but also monetary sanctions," he said. "But it also holds the community accountable for the time it takes for police to investigate these cases away from their other duties and calls for service. ... Although I don't have any illusions that we may receive any of the monies, it sends that message to the community."




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