Homeless woman accused of taking child; caregiver he was staying with also faces charges

A homeless woman accused of taking a 19-month-old boy and the caretaker he was staying with are facing misdemeanor child endangerment charges.

The boy, Azarah “Alex” R.L. Wohlert, was reported missing Thursday morning, when police believe Ashleigh R. Russell, 26, took him from a house in Wood River and left in the caretaker’s car without permission.

Wood River police knew the boy’s caretaker, Nikki S. Stephens, 46, of Wood River, had drug and alcohol problems, according to a news release.

Russell came back to the house with Alex about four and a half hours after the car was seen driving across the Clark Bridge into Missouri, according to police. That’s when Russell was taken to the Wood River Police Department for questioning, and the boy was taken to a hospital as a precaution.

On Friday, the Madison County State’s Attorney’s office charged Russell and Stephens with child endangerment.

The metro-east is home for investigative reporter Lexi Cortes. She was raised in Granite City, went to school in Edwardsville and now lives in Collinsville. Lexi has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat since 2014, winning multiple state awards for her investigative and community service reporting.
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