Wyoming Father Reunites With Daughters Taken By Mother For 74 Days

Jace Walsh of Alpine, Wyoming, was frantic for 74 days after his wife Stephanie, while battling mental health issues, took off with their two daughters. On Monday, he held his daughters for the first time since February. 

Clair McFarland

May 09, 20238 min read

A pair of Wyoming girls missing for 74 days after their mother took them from home in February have been found safe and reunited with their father. This photo is from the poster asking people to look out for the girls.
A pair of Wyoming girls missing for 74 days after their mother took them from home in February have been found safe and reunited with their father. This photo is from the poster asking people to look out for the girls. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Jace Walsh went 74 days without knowing where his daughters were. 

When he reunited with his daughters — 12-year-old Lilyana and 8-year-old Tamzen — in Georgia on Monday, Walsh wept as they clung to him. He asked if they were OK, and he told them he loves them.  

Walsh’s wife Stephanie left the family’s Alpine, Wyoming, home with their daughters Feb. 23. She’s had a years-long battle with mental illness, Walsh told Cowboy State Daily in a series of interviews.   

Jace said he thought he saw Stephanie’s car at the grocery store that afternoon and assumed they were “just getting groceries.”  

By 6 p.m., they were gone. So were the family’s two dogs.   

At first Walsh figured the girls had gone out for a dance class. He soon realized they left their phones behind at the house, and he could not find his family anywhere.  

Walsh became frantic.

He reached out to police and the public, posting the girls’ pictures on social media.  

Custody Order 

But law enforcement agents were limited in what they could do. Jace and Stephanie Walsh are not divorced; they hadn’t even been separated except during Stephanie’s 2022 stay in a mental health facility, said Jace.  

Walsh provided Cowboy State Daily with documentation of Stephanie’s facility stay and other incidents pertaining to her mental health.  

The parents shared custody until Wyoming District Court Judge Joseph Bluemel gave Jace temporary emergency custody of the girls in a March 6 order.

The order had the potential to give authorities more legal standing for getting the girls back home, since interference with custody is against Wyoming law. But no one could serve Stephanie Walsh, the girls’ biological mother and homemaker, with the order because no one knew where she was.  

“So we (were) stuck in this Catch-22 of, ‘What she’s doing isn’t criminal until you serve her papers’ — but they can’t help you find her until she’s done something criminal,” said Walsh.  

Walsh’s mother came to stay with him, and he undertook counseling sessions himself to deal with the strain.  

At The Library 

Walsh tracked Stephanie and the girls as they used the family credit card in Twin Falls, Idaho, then Heyburn, then down eastern Nevada, he said.  

On Feb. 25 in Las Vegas, Stephanie bought a new Honda Odyssey with a $37,700 cashier’s check using her home address on the purchase forms, said Jace Walsh. She then went to Los Angeles, along with a historic winter blizzard that hit the city that week.   

On March 15 came a glimmer of hope — a librarian staffer in Henderson, Nevada, reported seeing the girls with their mother at the library three days earlier.  

Knowing how his girls and their mother adore books, Walsh had been calling libraries in areas where he spotted new credit card purchases.  

“She said they looked disheveled but OK, and seemed pretty timid, which is not real normal for my older daughter,” said Jace Walsh of the librarian’s account. “My younger one is pretty timid.”  

Lilyana’s favorite books are Tui Sutherland’s “Wings of Fire” series. Tamzen’s favorites are Alexandra Day’s “Good Dog, Carl” books, said Walsh.  

Walmart Parking Lot 

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office contacted Walsh on Sunday, saying police found the girls — and the dogs — just outside Atlanta in Duluth, Georgia.   

“He wasn’t able to give us much information at the time,” said Walsh. “Just that they’d been located and were OK.”  

Police in nearby Dunwoody had arrested Stephanie Walsh for reckless conduct, said Walsh.  

Duluth police gave Cowboy State Daily the report detailing Stephanie Walsh’s arrest and the girls’ rescue.  

The girls were not in distress and were in good health, in a car in the Walmart parking lot, wrote Duluth Sgt. Brett Miles. But the girls did not know where their mother was.  

Stephanie Walsh walked alone for 5-7 hours while her children and her two dogs waited in the parking lot, the report says. Miles later told his supervisor that Stephanie told authorities she’d been sleepwalking, and she was crying when police found her, according to bodycam footage released to Cowboy State Daily.  


The bodycam recording shows Miles talking to the girls in the Honda odyssey, half ensconced by shade trees in the Walmart parking lot.  

“Hey,” said Miles. “Is your parents here?”  

Tamzen poked her head out of the car through the open driver’s side window, then ducked back into it.  

“We don’t know where she is,” said Lilyana, as the dogs in the car barked and growled. “The last time we saw her she was in the car before we went to bed.”  

Lilyana muzzled a dog’s mouth with her left hand. Passersby coursed around the vehicle.  

“Do you guys usually stay in Dunwoody?” asked Miles.  

“We’ve been moving around,” said Lilyana, her hair swept into a bun. Tamzen’s hair was loose around her shoulders.  

Other officers joined Miles and discussed whether they could hold Stephanie Walsh in jail because Lilyana is 12, and legally able to babysit for a short time.  

The officers believed that because Stephanie Walsh had been gone for nearly seven hours, she may have committed a crime by leaving the girls.  

Miles decided to recommend reckless conduct charges against her.  


Walsh and his mother scoured the airlines for the quickest flights to Georgia. They drove from Wyoming to Salt Lake City and took two more flights to get to Georgia from there.  

In the meantime, Walsh gave the Duluth authorities permission to have his girls stay at a family friend’s house in the Atlanta area Sunday night. The woman, whom Walsh said is a close friend of his wife’s, took the girls in, let them cool off in her pool and did their nails Sunday.  

Stephanie had been wandering along the road searching for this friend when police found her, said Jace Walsh.  

Walsh would later learn that his wife and daughters had been living in their new car, which was disabled because of a dead battery. He theorized that they left the lights on in the car, in the Walmart parking lot where they were living.

Stephanie and the girls had been surviving on sandwiches and other groceries in the car for weeks, he said.   

30 Hours 

Walsh was awake for 30 hours straight before he collapsed into his daughters’ arms in front of their family friend’s house.  

He wasn’t sure how their reunion would be: he had no idea what reasons Stephanie had given them for running away from home.  

“But you know,” said Walsh, “they ran right up and gave me hugs.”  

He did not pepper the girls with questions, he said, other than to make sure they’re OK. 

Walsh said he plans for the whole family to go through these incidents together at counseling once everyone is home. He also said he and his mother are working to get his wife out of jail and into mental health treatment.  

Walsh is still convincing himself he has his girls back.  

“It’s still sinking in,” he said. “It had gone from virtually no information for six weeks to, they’re located; they’re OK, and trying to find a flight out here that got us here as soon as possible.”  

Moving Forward 

Jace Walsh still hasn’t seen his wife.  

He wants to see her once he gets through the local visitation procedure, he said.

And he’s very nervous.

“It’s important to note I still love Stephanie,” Walsh told Cowboy State Daily in late April when his wife was still missing with the girls. “I desperately want her back. This (course of action) is not her; this is the mental illness. But the mental illness makes it not safe for her to be in charge of the girls.” 

Walsh on Tuesday said he wants to thank everyone who searched for Stephanie and the girls.  

“We felt so much support over the last few months, and that’s been huge,” said Walsh, referring to himself and his parents.  

Walsh and his daughters are staying at their family friend’s house in Georgia until Stephanie’s legal issues are resolved, he said.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter