Prosecutors say a Billings woman accused of kidnapping two young children went on a $1,000 shopping spree with stolen money before police tracked her to a motel and arrested her.
Stephanie Grace Byington, 24, has been charged with felony counts of kidnapping, endangering the welfare of children and drug possession. She also faces a misdemeanor charge of theft.
A co-defendant, Daniel Wayne Stops, 27, has been charged with identical offenses. Both are scheduled to appear for arraignment in District Court on Sept. 6.
Events that led to the arrest of Byington and Stops began about 6 p.m. Saturday when a woman called police to report that her children, ages 21 months and 2 months, and her vehicle were missing.
The woman told officers she had taken her children, her mother and Byington shopping at the Walmart on King Avenue at about 3:30 p.m. The woman said she asked Byington to stay in the vehicle with the children while she and her mother went into the store.
According to court records, the woman said she came out of the store about 20 or 30 minutes later to find her vehicle, along with her children, gone. The woman said she had left her cell phone in the vehicle, as well as $1,000 cash.
A short time later, the woman said, her mother received a text message from her missing phone "stating that Byington had been stopped in the Kmart parking lot and that she was possibly going to jail."
The woman and her mother walked to the Kmart a few blocks away, court records state, but could not find Byington, her vehicle or her children.
At about 5 p.m., someone identifying herself as "Jennifer" called the same cell phone and said Byington had been arrested and taken to jail. The caller told the woman she had her children and would return them to her.
After waiting a short while, the woman called police.
When Billings officers got involved, they asked the woman's cell phone provider to locate the woman's phone. Shortly after 7 p.m., the cell phone was located in the area of Dehler Park on North 27th Street, court records state.
Officers found the woman's vehicle parked outside the Rimview Inn. Motel staff did not have anyone listed by the name of Byington, so officers began searching the motel and found Byington, Stops and the children in one of the rooms.
Officers also found two small bags of methamphetamine on a nightstand, court records state, and newly purchased clothing from several Billings area stores. Receipts showed the clothing as purchased between 5:44 p.m. and 6:21 p.m. that day.
Byington allegedly admitted to using the $1,000 cash left in the vehicle to go shopping. None of the missing cash was recovered.
The children were returned to their mother, court record state.
Byington remained in the county jail Wednesday on a $20,000 bond. Bond for Stops, who has a lengthy criminal record, was set at $40,000.