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Missing toddler Nalani Johnson found dead in Pennsylvania park

2019-09-06

Nalani Johnson (Penn Hills Police Department)

The body of a missing toddler was discovered in a Pennsylvania park nearly three days after she was first reported missing by her father, who has been accused of trafficking his young daughter by a woman arrested for her kidnapping.

Authorities searching a park in Blairsville found 2-year-old Nalani Johnson dead Tuesday evening, hours after authorities revealed the woman charged in connection with the case, Sharena Nancy, had just begun a romantic relationship with the girl’s father, Paul Johnson, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

“Unfortunately, we can confirm that the missing child was found here in Pine Ridge Park in Indiana County," District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said during a news conference.

Nancy was arrested earlier this week and jailed in Allegheny County on charges of kidnapping of a minor, interference with custody of children and concealment of the whereabouts of a child. Police said the 25-year-old suspect sped off with Nalani still in the back seat of her vehicle as her father moved to get her out of the car seat Saturday evening.

Johnson reported his daughter missing around 5 p.m. the same day, claiming Nancy fled with his daughter in a black Yaris SUV.

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

Nancy was arrested around 8 p.m. but denied wrongdoing in the child’s disappearance. She instead pointed blame at Nalani’s father, who she alleged sold his daughter to an “unnamed individual” for $10,000, according to an affidavit cited by WTAE.

Nancy, who is reportedly an Uber driver, added that she dropped Nalani off with a person driving a silver SUV and out-of-state plates – though authorities have not located that vehicle.

Allegheny County Police Department Superintendent Coleman McDonough told reporters earlier Tuesday that investigators believe Nancy was and Johnson have known each other for a few months — despite early reports suggesting she’d only been his driver.

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

“We believe that an argument ensued at approximately 5 p.m. or so. Mr. Johnson and [Johnson’s friend] exited the vehicle with the intention of taking Nalani with them when Ms. Nancy pulled away with the child in the vehicle.”

Authorities did not say whether Nancy was a suspect in the child’s death nor did they provide details on how Nalani was killed. An autopsy is slated to be performed on Wednesday.

Following the discovery of the missing toddler, McDonough released a statement on Facebook extending his “deepest sympathies to the family of Nalani Johnson.”

“This is not the outcome that any of us would have wished,” he said. “We will continue to keep the Johnson family in our thoughts.”

An investigation into the incident is ongoing, and anyone with information regarding the tragedy is asked to call the Allegheny County Police tip line at 1-833-255-8477.