FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The body of missing 5-year-old Shaniya Nicole Davis was recovered Monday afternoon, Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine said.
The child was first reported missing from her home, at 1116-A Sleepy Hollow Drive, by her mother last Tuesday morning. On Friday, Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, was charged with first-degree kidnapping, and late Saturday, her mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, 25, was arrested on accusations that she prostituted her daughter.
Fayetteville police obtained information Sunday that Shaniya's body was dumped along Walker Road, off N.C. Highway 87, near the Lee-Harnett county line, said Theresa Chance, spokeswoman for the Fayetteville Police Department. About 250 law enforcement agents and volunteers searched the area Monday morning.
Searchers focused on an area about 6 miles from the last confirmed sighting of Shaniya. She was seen on security video at the Comfort Suites hotel in Sanford, along with a man who police believe is McNeill, last Tuesday morning.
Chance said volunteers assisting in the search found the body about 100 feet off Walker Road.
One man who found the body said the girl was lying on the ground and was wearing only a T-shirt.
"At least (the family) will have some sort of closure out of this, hopefully, by the body being found, and maybe they will be able to put away whoever is responsible," said the man, who didn't want to be identified.
"It's just a shame," he said. "I came out here because I've got two daughters. Looking at (Shaniya's father) pleading for his daughter to get found, you just get that feeling in your stomach, and you just want to come out and help in any way that you can."
A forensics team from the State Bureau of Investigation was brought in late Monday afternoon to exhume the body without disturbing any other evidence at the crime scene, Chance said.
It might be several days before members of her family can identify the body, she said.
"You always hold out hope that you're going to be able to reunite, especially with their family, safely," she said. "It's a very sad ending. It's very difficult."
Antoinette Davis made her first court appearance Monday afternoon and quietly told a judge she understood the charges against her. The judge appointed an attorney for her and set her next court date on Dec. 3.
Arrest warrants state that Davis "knowingly provide(d) Shaniya Davis with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude" and she "permit(ted) an act of prostitution."
Cumberland County Detention Center officials put her in isolation for her own protection. She was being held under a $51,000 bond.
Outside of court, Davis' aunt, Yvonne Mitchell, said the family is as stunned by the charges against her as they are heart-broken over Shaniya's death.
"She was only 5. What could she have done for somebody to have done this to her?" Mitchell said of her grand-niece's slaying.
She said the family would help Davis through the situation, adding that they don't believe she was involved in Shaniya's disappearance.
"I think she took care of her kids very well. I think she did the best she could," Mitchell said. "If there was anything wrong, it was hidden very good."
Davis worked in the kitchen at Carolina Inn at Village Green, an assisted living facility in Fayetteville.
Last week, police said that the Cumberland County Department of Social Services had been involved with the family previously over custody issues.
DSS Director Brenda Jackson declined to comment Monday.
Mitchell said she doesn't know why DSS was involved with the family, noting the Davis' children were happy every time she saw them.
"I don't really know why they were called or why they were involved in her life. Maybe they should have done a little bit more than what they did, and this wouldn't have happened," she said.
Father, aunt begged for child's safe return
Before the body was found, Shaniya's father and aunt appeared on CBS' "Early Show" Monday to beg for the girl's safe return.
"I just ask that, at this time, please just let her go," said Shaniya's aunt, Carey Lockhart-Davis. "She doesn't deserve this. Have a kind heart."
Bradley Lockhart and his sister cared for the girl until last month, when she went to live with her mother. Davis had worked to get her life together and had been working for at least six months and gotten a place of her own, Lockhart said.
"She had asked if she could be a mother, and I felt she was sincere in asking, and I figured to give her a chance," he said.
Lockhart-Davis, who isn't related to Antoinette Davis, recalled happy times with Shaniya, when the girl would come home from school showing off marks for good behavior.
"She's a precious, little angel, full of joy," Lockhart said. "A little reserved when you first meet her, but once she gets to know you, she just runs around, plays and won't leave you alone."
Neighbors of the Lockhart family in Fayetteville said Shaniya was very polite and full of life.
"She was very happy and cute as a can be," said Leslie Rollston, whose daughter played with Shaniya. "She just had wonderful manners."
Rollston said Lockhart is a good father and neighbor who always helps out when needed.
"I just can’t imagine the pain he’s going through,” she said. “We were all praying for a different outcome.”
Holly Perry said she and other neighbors now face the difficult task of explaining Shaniya's death to their children.
"It's very hard because they really don't understand the whole concept of death," Perry said.
Vigils held for Shaniya
A candlelight vigil was held Monday evening at the Family Dollar parking lot on Murchison Road in Fayetteville for Shaniya. Among the estimated 500 people in attendance was her father.
"Lord, I come to you with open arms and it is hard. It is hard," Lockhart said.
Lockhart’s legs were shaking and tears were in his eyes as he spoke to the crowd.
“Don’t give up on me and don't give up on Shaniya,” he said.
Candles, flowers and teddy bears were placed on the ground in remembrance of the girl.
“If you have got children, just love them. That is all you can do, just love them,” vigil attendee Gloria Campbell said.
Ann Summers, Antoinette's mother and Shaniya's grandmother, stood on the edges of the vigil assembly.
"I cannot believe this is happening,” she said.
Summers said she does not believe her daughter hurt Shaniya.
"I don't think she had anything to do with it, but I am not going to incriminate her or down rate her,” she said.
Over 100 people attended another vigil held at the same time on Walker Road, near the Lee-Harnett county line.
People lit candles, sang songs and prayed for Shaniya. They also urged everyone to help keep children out of harms way.
“Keep an eye on your kids, an eye on your neighbors’ kids,” vigil attendee Gene Forshey said.