FLORENCE, S.C. — It had been less than a day since Carol Gause ended a multi-state hunt for a man accused of a Baltimore County slaying and his 11-year-old daughter, but she was reluctant to take any credit.
The trim, 53-year-old woman, who wore a silver cross embellished with small diamonds around her neck, said she believes God orchestrated Caitlyn Virts' rescue.
"I am not the hero; the hero is those who started prayers for that girl," Gause said early Saturday afternoon. "It was because of those prayers that she was found. The Lord only used me and used the woman that posted on Facebook to take care of this little girl.
"It wasn't by chance that they came to my motel. It wasn't by chance that I rented to him and it wasn't be chance that I saw it on Facebook."
Gause recounted the fortuitous Facebook post about an Amber Alert and her call to local police as she worked at the front desk of the Colonial Inn, an aging but well-kept motel on two acres near the heart of downtown. She and her husband, Jon, have owned the motel for 30 years, and it has been a second home. She raised her three children in the lobby, she says; their cribs and walkers were placed in the office, and she served countless customers with the babies on her hip.
The motel's glass office sits off a main drag in Florence, across from a new library. Behind the counter, a window ledge and file cabinet are lined with family photos, including high school portraits of the Gause children and wedding shots. The lobby has a big television set and an exercise bike, a full-sized refrigerator, a microwave — and an old-fashioned, mint-green cigarette machine kept for decoration.
The two-story motel, she says, is a "stopover place," for many travelers on Interstate 95 or those heading east to Myrtle Beach. The city — one of South Carolina's larger cities with a population of about 37,000 — is about five miles off I-95 and lies right between the beach and Columbia, the state capital.
Jon Gause said Friday night's police action, in which Timothy Virts was apprehended, was the most notable event to occur since they've owned the motel. They have called police before but usually for "nonsense stuff. Maybe a couple gets in an argument or some fellows will be watching a ballgame or something and get too loud, just nonsense like that."
He was asleep in their nearby apartment Friday evening, readying for his shift at the front desk, as the arrest unfolded.
"One of my employees comes down and sits with [my wife] till I come in," he said. "He said she was just on the Facebook and she just got up. Never said a word, just came over and checked the register there and called the police. [A suspected] kidnapper, murderer — what, 30, 40 yards from her — and she just held it all together and called the police so professionally and handled the whole thing and didn't even wake me up. ... I am proud of her — very proud of her."
Carol Grause said it was fortunate that she spotted the social media post about the alert Friday evening.
"I'm not a big Facebook person. I just scroll through."
When work at the front desk slowed, she spent time on her account, something she only does occasionally. She spotted a friend's post from WITN-TV news and recognized the picture of Caitlyn wearing a crown. It was the same girl who was staying in Room 101.
State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, a Florence resident and one of South Carolina's most powerful politicians, said he read about the kidnapping and rescue in the local newspaper Saturday morning. "Maryland man, missing girl — focus of Amber Alert — found in Florence motel" was the headline on page 4A.
"That is a horrible crime," said Leatherman. "When I read that, I couldn't imagine how terrifying that was for the young daughter.
Leatherman couldn't recall a similar situation occurring in the city. "But, fairly regular," he said, "our law enforcement will pick up drug dealers."
He added, "Our people here, our innkeepers, are really perceptive and always on the lookout for something like this. We're on I-95, which is the north-south highway from New York to Miami, and we have all different types of people coming through our area."
Leatherman said Florence is "a typical Southern town with extremely friendly people, and I think when things like this happen, it bothers our people that it occurred and they wonder how [those people] wound up here in Florence."
On Saturday afternoon, resident Teresa Simons was walking down the street to go to lunch at a restaurant before heading to an outdoor arts festival. She stopped to look at the police tape lining part of the Colonial Inn's parking lot. She hadn't heard about the SWAT team action.
"I guess I am really not surprised," Simons said. "It is probably halfway between there and wherever he was heading."
Carol Gause, meanwhile, took some time to reflect on the previous night's events.
"My husband and I work around the clock," she said. "I am here all day and he works all night. Maybe there's a reason for me being here all the time."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun