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Death of toddler found strapped in car seat at Pennsylvania park ruled a homcide

2019-09-05

Nalani Johnson (Penn Hills Police Department)

The death of a toddler found dead and strapped in her car seat at Pennsylvania park earlier this week has been ruled a homicide.

A deputy and his cadaver dog discovered the body of Nalani Johnson in Pine Ridge Park on Tuesday, nearly three days after her father, Paul Johnson, first reported her missing. There were no signs of trauma on the toddler’s body and Prosecutor Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said it’s likely she died Saturday – the same day she was kidnapped.

A forensic pathologist on Wednesday ruled Nalani, who would have turned 2 this month, was murdered but declined to declare a cause of death until a full review of her medical records could be completed, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Sharena Nancy was arrested in connection with the toddler’s disappearance earlier this week and jailed in Allegheny County on charges of kidnapping a minor, interference with custody of children and concealment of a child.

Police said the 25-year-old suspect drove off with Nalani still in her car late Saturday afternoon as the girl’s father attempted to remove her from the back of the black Yaris SUV.

Authorities later recovered the vehicle and an Amber Alert was issued, triggering a days-long search for the missing toddler.

When a Penn Hills police officer pulled Nancy over around 7:30 p.m. the same night, the child’s car seat had already been removed from the backseat. She was taken into custody but denied kidnapping the toddler in a later interview with investigators. Instead, she told authorities Nalani’s 21-year-old father trafficked his daughter for $10,000.

Investigators have not found any evidence to corroborate the claim.

Allegheny County Police Department Superintendent Coleman McDonough told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday that investigators believe Johnson and Nancy have known each other for months despite early reports suggesting she’d only been his Uber driver.

“They were friends,” he said. “They were in the beginnings of an intermittent romantic relationship.”

No one has yet been charged with Nalani’s murder.

With News Wire Services