Investigators say the child was found huddled in a secret "Harry Potter" hiding place beneath the stairs of her biological parents' home in Saugerties, upstate New York, NY Daily News reported. Cooper was hidden in there with her.
The mother and father, as well as Paislee's grandfather who owns the home, 57-year-old Kirk Shultis Sr., were all arrested at the scene.
It was not immediately clear why the parents initially lost custody of both Paislee and her older sister, or who became their legal guardian.
But in July of 2019, when the legal guardian and county officials went to pick the siblings up from school, the older sibling was there — but Paislee was missing.
"We believe what happened after that point was that somebody informed the parents that the older child had been picked up by the legal guardian and by county officials at the time and that caused the parents then to take Paislee and flee," Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra told CBS New York.
In the two years that followed, investigators had searched the grandfather's house, 150 miles from Paislee's home in Cayuga Heights, but never found anything. Paislee's father always insisted he hadn't seen her, or her mother.
But when a tip-off came in this week, police obtained a search warrant — and this time, eagle-eyed Detective Erik Thiele noticed something odd about a staircase leading from the back of the house to the basement. Shining his flashlight between the steps, he made a shocking discovery.
"He saw what he believed was a blanket and based on that, they started ripping the steps off the stairs. And at one point they had taken several of the steps off, they could see small feet," Sinagra said.
Huddled inside the grotty hideaway was the little girl who had not been seen in two years — and her mother.
"It was pretty dingy. It was cold. There was blankets that were laying on the ground, on the concrete floor. They were completely soaked, extremely heavy," Sinagra said.
"Now it is our belief that each and every time in the past two years that we went to the residence with new leads, that this is where the child and mother would hide."
Police say Paislee was "released in good health." There was no immediate evidence of physical or sexual abuse.
Shocked neighbors told CBS NY they had never seen the little girl outside the home.
"Number one, this little girl didn't have a opportunity to go to school. We are pretty certain that she probably wasn’t receiving proper medical attention," Sinagra said. "Obviously, the family just couldn’t take her to a doctor because she was a reported missing person. The other concern is you have a child that doesn’t write or read because they didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. They will now."
According to police, Paislee did have her own bedroom in the house. Officers had obviously noticed the bedroom on previous searches, but Sinagra said the father and grandfather had an excuse.
"And on the wall it said 'Paislee'. There was clothing items there, it appeared that someone had been sleeping in the bed and somebody had been using the bedroom, and of course, the father and the grandfather said, no, that they had set that room up like that so that if Paislee was ever found, she had a place to come back to," the Chief said.
Paislee's mother, father and grandfather were all arrested and charged with child endangerment and felony custodial interference. Shultis Sr. and Jr. were both released on bond, while Cooper was held because of an existing warrant.
Paislee meanwhile has been reunited with her guardian and big sister.
Officers said that on their way to the police station, as they drove past a McDonald's, Paislee said she hadn't eaten there in such a long time — so they turned back and bought her a Happy Meal.