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Garner police: Toddler likely had been dead six weeks

DeVarion Montrell Gross' mother was arrested Thursday and charged with first-degree murder in the 19-month-old's death.

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GARNER, N.C. — A 19-month-old boy likely had been dead for six weeks before family members found his body in his mother's apartment in mid-November, Garner police said Friday.

Sherita Nicole McNeil, 23, of 1852 Spring Drive, Garner, was charged Thursday afternoon with first-degree murder and concealing the death of a person in the death of DeVarion Montrell Gross.

McNeil was in the Wake County jail Friday afternoon after a first court appearance during which a District Court judge denied her bond.

Although investigators are still awaiting a final autopsy report, initial results found the boy suffered multiple injuries in the months preceding his death, Police Chief Tom Moss said during a news conference.

"We know that Sherita McNeil, upon DeVarion's death, which we believe occurred in early October of this past year, concealed his body in her residence for a period of approximately six weeks, using bleach to mask the smell, until he was discovered by family members," Moss said.

Family members found DeVarion in a sealed white plastic garbage bag in a second-floor closet of the home he shared with his mother and sister, according to search warrants and a 911 call released in the case. The bag was underneath sheets inside a plastic container.

"Though bleach was used to mask the odor, there was a strong, strong odor, and it would not take that much looking to find where the source of the odor was," said Christina Pappas, a special victims investigator handling the case.

McNeil's daughter is in the custody of her father's family, Pappas said. It does not appear she was abused.

"This is an ongoing investigation, and information continues to come in every day, but the evidence we have obtained tells us that this abuse was perpetrated solely against DeVarion and not her other child," Pappas said.

DeVarion's grandmother told a 911 operator she thought her grandson had been dead for about three weeks.

According to a timeline released Friday, DeVarion was last seen alive Oct. 3, when he was picked up from day care. On Oct. 6, police said, McNeil told the day care that the boy was staying with his godmother.

"Sherita McNeil repeatedly lied to family, friends and others about her son's welfare and whereabouts," Moss said.

Garner police began looking into the case on Nov. 1 after an individual close to the family began calling with concerns. Investigators tried multiple times to meet with McNeil and DeVarion but were unsuccessful, Moss said.

Pappas said she had an appointment with McNeil on Nov. 13, but that McNeil never came to it. Pappas had tried contacting her again on Nov. 14.

Although police did not give a motive for the crime, search warrants suggest they suspected McNeil might have wanted to get rid of her son.

Investigators searching the home uncovered letters from DeVarion's father, Eric Chambers, expressing concern over McNeil getting rid of their son, according to a Dec. 3 search warrant.

Chambers, who was in the Wake County jail at the time on habitual-felon charges, has been cooperative with police, investigators said Friday, and they do not believe he had any involvement in his son's death.

"I believe there was communication between (Chambers) and (McNeil), where he felt concern that she was not going to keep the child but that she was going to give the child away," Pappas said. "And because he was behind bars, he was not going to be able to stop that."


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