The mother of a two-year-old found dead in Mississippi this weekend and her boyfriend were booked with second-degree murder today.
"Over the past several days, when we first received a call, it was our highest priority to bring Neveah home. It saddens me to have to stand here and hold a press conference to discuss the fact that this beautiful, innocent angel is no longer with us," said Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul.
Lanaya Cardwell, 24, Nevaeh's mother, was taken away by police in handcuffs less than an hour before the press conference started. She was booked with second-degree murder, Paul said. In response to questions, Paul would only say that a warrant was obtained for her following an investigation.
A release sent out after the press conference indicates that the boyfriend, Phillip Gardner, 30, also has been booked with second-degree murder in the case. He was already in jail; he had been booked Sunday with Unlawful Disposal of Remains and Obstruction of Justice in connection with Nevaeh's death.
Nevaeh Allen was reported missing last week, and after two days of searching authorities said she was presumed dead and arrested Gardner, her mother's live-in boyfriend.
Officers were sent to the child's home when she was reported missing, Paul said, giving a timeline. Gardner, initially reported that when he woke up from a nap the child was missing. Her mother, Cardwell, was reportedly at work when this incident occurred.
An extensive investigation was conducted, and that included multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in Louisiana and in Mississippi, Paul said. The child's body was found in the remote Logtown area of Hancock County Mississippi on Sunday.
After an autopsy in Baton Rouge, the coroner ruled her death a homicide. Paul did not elaborate today on the manner of death, but WBRZ reports that arrest warrants say the two-year-old picked up Cardwell's contact lenses in the morning while she was getting ready for work. Cardwell allegedly punched the toddler, causing her to fall backward and hit her head on a cabinet.
Gardner told police Cardwell took Neveah into another room and described "hearing what sounded like two adults fighting in the room," according to arrest records.
He also told authorities that Neveah had a contusion on her forehead when he left to take Caldwell to work, records say. He said when he returned, the two-year-old laid down on the couch, refused to eat because of stomach pain, and then became unresponsive.
Documents say Gardner tried to revive her using CPR, but was unsuccessful. He told police he put the toddler in a small suitcase, and drove the two other children he was also watching, a 3-month-old and an 11-month-old, to Mississippi, where he buried Neveah in the woods and threw her clothes in a trashcan, according to WBRZ.
Autopsy reports show Neveah had multiple bruises on her face and head, along with swelling on her brain. According to WBRZ, the coroner noted that the marks on her face resembled handprints.