On Thursday, July 23, 2020, 29-year-old Philletta Moransit and her 5-year-old son, Chance Peterkin, were reported missing approximately nine hours after they were last spotted by Chance’s grandfather, walking away from their home on Purcell Street in Avon Park, Florida.
In their initial post, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) reported that Philletta was last seen barefoot, wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and white pants, and Chance was dressed in orange shorts and a blue tank top.
The HCSO immediately launched a search for the pair. Just before 8:00 PM, Philletta was found, naked but alive, on the South Florida State College campus, which is located between Lake Lelia and Lake Glenada. Chance was not with her. When asked where her son was, Philletta was uncooperative, refusing to give any information, including when she had last seen her son.
At this point, authorities ramped up the search for Chance, which involved officers on foot and on ATVs, as well as multiple K-9s, searching heavily wooded areas. A helicopter from the Sheriff’s Office in nearby Polk County and a drone equipped with FLIR (forward-looking infrared cameras) thermal imaging technology were also employed to conduct aerial searches, but no heat signature was located during the search.
The HCSO and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also had multiple boats in the water of both Lake Lelia and nearby Lake Glenada as part of the desperate search to find the five-year-old boy.
Sheriff’s Deputies located Philletta’s clothing on the easter side of Lake Lelia, which is also known locally as “Gator Lake.”
Tragically, around 12:20 AM, the search came to the worst possible end when Sheriff Paul Blackman, who had been scouring the lake for hours in his own personal boat, located Chance’s little body in the water of Lake Lelia, floating among some vegetation near the shoreline.
Philletta Breanna Moransit was booked into the Highlands County Jail in Sebring at 2:09 AM on Friday, July 24 on one misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer/obstruction without violence and one felony charge of child neglect with great bodily harm, although the investigation is ongoing, and the HCSO said the charges may be upgraded. Online jail records indicate her bond is currently set at $100,000.
The Department of Children and Families is also investigating.
I have yet to find any indication of what may have caused Philletta to either abandon or actively drown her son in the lake. I have a feeling we’re eventually going to hear about mental health issues on Philletta’s part, but so far, there is no hint from authorities as to whether they believe Chance’s death was intentional or how it occurred, other than this: investigators told news station 10 Tampa Bay that the place where they found Chance in Lake Lelia was too deep, and there was too much vegetation on the shoreline, for a five-year-old to get there on his own.
“We can’t say for sure what led to him getting in the water, how he got there, what happened after he got in there,” said HCSO spokesperson Scott Dressel. “We went to great lengths last night to try and find Chance. We were hoping it would turn out right.”
He said, “Everybody out there was heavily invested in hoping for a miracle, and when the call came out that he had been found, you could just see it on their faces. Cops are good at hiding emotion, but you could just see everybody just kind of deflate. The air just kind of went out of the room, basically.”
The HCSO has received multiple comments from area residents complaining that an AMBER Alert was not issued. It’s not rocket science, although you’d think it was equally complicated based on the number of dimbulbs running their mouths (or rather, their typing fingers) online about this.
An AMBER Alert is a message distributed by a state child abduction alert system via social media, TV and radio stations (including internet and satellite radio), text messages, billboards, electronic traffic signs, and email, as well as extremely loud emergency alerts on some mobile devices. AMBER is a “backronym” (an acronym assigned to a pre-existing word) for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and is named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996.
Each individual police organization is responsible for declaring an AMBER Alert, which typically includes the child’s name, age, and description; a description of the suspected abductor; and a vehicle description and license plate number if available. Every American state or Canadian province has its own AMBER Alerts criteria, although the US Department of Justice provides the following guidance, which most US states follow closely:
- Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place.
- The child must be at risk of serious injury or death.
- There must be sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor’s vehicle to issue an alert.
- The child must be under 17 years of age.
The USDOJ also recommends that AMBER Alert data be entered immediately into the FBI National Crime Information Center along with text information about the circumstances of the abduction.
The important takeaway here is that AMBER Alerts are used in child abductions, and in Chance’s case, he was not considered abducted, as he was with his mother.
In my opinion, the HCSO handled Chance’s case exactly how they should have. Dressel said, “We pushed out information on our app. We did reverse 911 calls. We pushed it out over social media to try and get as many people in the community scouring the streets.”
On top of that, they quickly launched an extensive search via land, air, and water, utilizing a good amount of manpower and resources. I understand people have emotional responses to cases like these, but too many people are too quick to point fingers and lay blame where it doesn’t belong.
An online obituary for Chance on the website for the Sean A. Banks Mortuary has since been removed, but it stated that he was born on May 30, 2015 in Sebring, Florida. Comments on online articles left by parents of Chance’s friends describe him as loving, with a heart of gold. Just like Daviana Landry, whose story I posted just hours ago, little Chance was set to begin kindergarten in the fall.
Marci Smith, who lives locally and whose granddaughter was a preschool classmate of Chance’s, told Fox 10 Phoenix, “He was a good kid. He loved hugs.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been created by family members to help Chance’s father, Shane Peterkin, with end of life costs and future expenses. The description within the campaign sheds more light on what a sweet little boy Chance was:
“While the circumstances surrounding his death are devastating, we are asking that everyone focus on celebrating the love and light that Chance brought to our lives. Chance was a vibrant 5-year-old that was full of joy and love. He loved driving his toy cars and bikes and especially loved playing with cousins. He was a son, grandchild, nephew, cousin and friend loved by all. He was especially attached to his father and best friend, Shane Peterkin. As everyone can imagine, this has been a tremendously hard time for his father.”
My heart goes out to Shane and the rest of Chance’s family.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Chance’s case.
Sources: Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, 10 Tampa Bay, Fox 10 Phoenix, Highlands County Sheriff online jail records, Wikipedia, 20 ABC WCJB