It wasn’t the first time Keesha Hodges had given out-of-towners a ride from Cordova Municipal Airport. When a Seward air taxi pilot asked Hodges if she could drive a newly arrived family into town, she didn’t think twice before saying yes.
During the ride, Hodges chatted with her passengers: a woman with straight, dark hair and her three children. The woman, who didn’t remove her sunglasses, introduced her children as Slate, Fox and Pepper, names Hodges would recall instantly when she saw them in the news the following day. The woman asked Hodges about the fastest way to get to Juneau.
“She was very polite,” Hodges said. “She kept saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you so much’… She asked about where she could get a burner phone, which did throw us off a little bit, but she said her other phone had water damage. Money didn’t seem to be a problem — she just wanted to get on her way quickly.”
Hodges dropped off the woman and her children at AC Value Center around 11 a.m. At the time, the children didn’t seem to be in any distress.
“They seemed fine,” Hodges said. “They were just rolling with it.”
Later that day, Hodges glimpsed the family outside the Prince William Motel. Evidently, they hadn’t managed to catch a flight to Juneau.
The following day, Aug. 9, Hodges was scrolling through Facebook when her eyes caught on a news story: three children had been wrongfully removed from a Seward foster home and were missing. On Aug. 5, Slate Erickson, 4, Jedidiah “Fox” Erickson, 7, and Pepper Erickson, 9, had been taken by a woman who falsely identified herself as a representative of the Office of Children’s Services. The children’s biological mother, Melissa Salgado, 40, was also noted to have been missing.
Hodges immediately recognized Salgado and the Erickson children as her passengers of the previous day. Hodges attempted to phone the Alaska State Troopers, but was met with a recorded message, so her boyfriend, Cayce Morin, took off for the Cordova Police Department office. Seeing a parked State Trooper truck, Morin pulled over and relayed Hodges’s story.
After receiving Hodges’s tip, officers began combing the town with the help of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. Salgado and the Erickson children were soon sighted walking along the street near the Prince William Motel. Salgado was cooperative when taken into custody, Police Chief Michael Hicks said.
“It all went pretty smoothly,” Hicks said. “When we get these kinds of cases, we all think the worst and hope for the best, and this one was a win… It’s the best possible way it could have ended.”
Following her arrest, Salgado was charged with second-degree custodial interference along with Jeffrey Erickson, 46, of Seward. Salgado was additionally charged with felony misconduct involving a controlled substance after she was discovered to be carrying a small amount of methamphetamine. Salgado is currently out on bail with an ankle monitor.
The search was aided by use of the Nixle service, which allows citizens to receive safety, traffic and crime alerts on their phones, said Megan Peters, communications director for the Alaska State Troopers.
“Directly because of those Nixles, we got two tips that led us to find the kids and make sure they were safe, and to get the mom into custody,” Peters said. “It shows how valuable it can be to have that information in front of you.”
Investigations are ongoing and some aspects of the case remain unexplained, Peters said.