The body of a missing Louisiana toddler was discovered on Sunday in a remote area of Mississippi, and her stepfather arrested in connection with the two-year-old’s death, officials said.
Pearl River County Coroner Derek Turnage confirmed the toddler’s identity on Sunday and said her body will be handed over to Louisiana authorities for autopsy to determine the cause of death, the news outlet reported.
The toddler’s stepfather, 30-year-old Phillip Gardner, was arrested on Sunday afternoon on charges of unlawful disposal of remains and obstruction of justice after being questioned by detectives, according to The Baton Rouge Advocate. He has been booked into the East Baton Rouge Prison.
According to local police, the 30-year-old could face additional charges depending on the outcome of the autopsy. The Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) intends to hold a press briefing on the matter later in the week, WAFB 9 reported.
Detectives with BRPD, the FBI, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, and Gulf South Search and Rescue worked together to locate the missing toddler’s body, investigators said.
According to WBRZ, the two-year-old was reported missing after her older siblings returned home from school on Friday afternoon and found that the door to their apartment had been left open, and that the toddler was gone.
Gardner had reportedly been watching her at lunchtime, and said he took a nap at about 1 p.m. that day. He told authorities that it was the last time he saw the toddler.
Family members told The Baton Rouge Advocate that the child’s mother, Lanaya Cardwell, and Gardner had a “toxic,” often violent relationship, and that the violence at times involved Nevaeh.
Nevaeh’s mother told reporters on Friday that she was at work when her daughter disappeared.
“Nevaeh is not known for wandering around,” Cardwell said. “I never once had to correct Nevaeh for even leaving the house without an adult. Nevaeh knows better.”
Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam told the Sun Herald on Sunday that the Logtown area will remain closed while the FBI carries out an investigation.
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with related information is urged to contact the Violent Crimes Unit at 225-389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at 225-344-7867.