AUGUSTA, Ga. – Florida authorities arrived in Augusta on Thursday afternoon to question John Evander Couey (search), a registered sex offender apprehended earlier in the day as a "person of interest" in the disappearance of Jessica Lunsford.
Investigators from the Citrus County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department intend to determine on Thursday if Couey should be cleared or if he should be considered a suspect in the mystery over what happened to the 9-year-old Florida girl.
Richmond County Sheriff's Department deputies took Couey into custody about 9 a.m. EST on Thursday, said department spokesman Ken Autrey. Couey was cooperative and did not try to hide who he was when he was picked up, officials said.
Couey, who goes by the nickname of "Johnny," is being held on a warrant issued out of Florida for violation of his probation, Citrus County (Fla.) Sheriff Jeff Dawsy (search) told reporters.
While Couey has not yet been charged in connection with Jessica's disappearance, Dawsy said authorities have as many as three unrelated charges on which they can continue to hold him.
Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, told reporters Thursday that he didn't know Couey and didn't recongize his photograph.
"I'm not going to build my hopes up until the sheriff tells me directly that they're after the guy who got my daughter," said Lunsford, wearing a "Help Find Jessica" T-shirt that had the smiling girl's photo on it.
The girl's grandmother, Ruth Lansford, cried as she talked about the prospect that Couey may in some way be connected to Jessica's disappearance.
Maybe he could tell us something. Maybe he did it. I sure hope he did so we can get this settled," she said before adding that she also didn't want an innocent person to be accused wrongly.
Focus on Couey
Law enforcement became interested in talking to Couey while they were trying to contact every registered sex offender who lived near Jessica's home.
Detectives discovered that Couey, 46, was no longer living at his listed address and hadn't notified authorities of his move, even though such notification was required by law.
From interviewing relatives, investigators found out that Couey had traveled to Savannah, Ga. He had lived about two miles north of Jessica's home but sometimes stayed with relatives who live within "eyeshot" of her house, Dawsy said on Wednesday.
Couey has an extensive criminal record. In the past he was arrested for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, indecent exposure, disorderly conduct and larceny. In 1991, he was arrested in Kissimmee on a charge of fondling a child under age 16. In 1978, during a burglary of an occupied residence, he was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her, Dawsy said.
On Sunday, police in Georgia tracked down Couey at a Salvation Army shelter at the request of Citrus County officials. Couey then agreed to go to police headquarters, where he was interviewed, Savannah-Chatham County Police Chief Dan Flynn said.
But Flynn said by the time Citrus County officials asked them to talk to Couey again Monday, he couldn't be located. Two Citrus County investigators have joined the search for Couey in Savannah, he said.
A warrant had been issued for Couey's arrest on a probation violation for marijuana possession, but because it was only a local warrant Savannah authorities had to release him following the interview. That warrant has since been upgraded, and another warrant has been added because of Couey's failure to notify authorities he had moved, authorities said.
"He is getting more and more interesting to us as time as goes on," Dawsy said.
Jessica hasn't been seen since Feb. 23, after her grandmother she says she tucked her into bed at the family's home, about 60 miles north of Tampa. Her father had slept at his girlfriend's house that night and discovered the girl missing when he returned home about 6 a.m. Dawsy has said that his story checked out.
An intense sweep using search dogs and hundreds of volunteers ended after five days with no important evidence found.
A 14-member task force is investigating the case, which includes the FBI (search), Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Hernando County and Citrus County sheriff's office. The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children has also provided expertise in helping crack the case.
The reward for Jessie's safe return and information of her whereabouts had grown to $115,000. Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Hampton, who grew up in Homosassa (search), donated $25,000.
FOX News' Orlando Salinas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.