A man was arrested in connection to the disappearance of his 2-year-old stepdaughter, who went missing in Louisiana and was found dead days later in Mississippi, police said.
Lanaya Cardwell was at work and reportedly left her toddler, Nevaeh Allen, in the care of her husband, the child’s stepfather, Phillip Gardner, 30. When the little girl’s siblings returned from school that day, they found the door to their home ajar and Nevaeh gone, according to Louisiana State Police.
Gardner claimed the last time he saw the missing girl was when he took a nap around 1 p.m., NBC reported.
“Nevaeh is not known for wandering around,” Cardwell said shortly after her daughter vanished. “I never once had to correct Nevaeh for even leaving the house without an adult. Nevaeh knows better.”
Nevaeh’s body was found in a remote area of Hancock County, Mississippi, two days later, on Sept. 26, and Gardner was arrested following an interview with authorities, The Baton Rouge Advocate reported.
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Gardner first told detectives he woke up and noticed the door unlock and the girl missing, the newspaper reported, citing a police report.
"The story done changed," Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr. said.
The police report alleged Gardner then “admitted that he found the juvenile unresponsive and lifeless” and further allegedly said he was responsible for "disposing of the remains without notifying authorities.”
An autopsy to determine the cause of the child’s death is pending, and the investigation remains active, authorities said.
Gardner was taken into custody and booked into the East Baton Rouge Prison on charges of unlawful disposal of remains and obstruction of justice, inmate records show.
The girl’s grandmother, Jessica Billiot, claimed Cardwell and Gardner had a toxic relationship that allegedly involved domestic violence, The Advocate reported.
"To me, there were some things going on there that I did not like,” Billiot said.
Marcus Allen called his daughter "the perfect 2-year-old,” noting she loved the park and animals.
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