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A Louisiana man has been arrested this week across state lines in connection to the death of his missing 2-year-old stepdaughter.
The body of Nevaeh Allen was found in Hancock County, Mississippi, northeast of New Orleans, on Sunday, officials said. The toddler’s cause and manner of death are currently unknown.
Phillip Gardner, 30, was booked into an East Baton Rouge Parish detention center on Sunday, online jail records show. The toddler's stepfather was charged with unlawful disposal of human remains and obstruction of justice. He may also face additional charges.
Neveah was reported missing from La Belle Aire, Louisiana on Sept. 24. The girl’s mother, Lanaya Cardwell, told local media she’d been working when she learned her child was missing from her apartment. She said when the toddler’s siblings returned to the residence hours later after school was dismissed, the apartment’s front door was ajar and Nevaeh was nowhere to be found.
"Nevaeh is not known for wandering around," she told WGMB-TV on Friday. "I never once had to correct Nevaeh for even leaving the house without an adult. Nevaeh knows better. That’s all I know.”
Cardwell had previously issued a plea urging anybody with information to come forward to police prior to her remains being recovered from Mississippi.
“If you see my baby, please contact the police, just please,” she said. “I just want my baby home. That’s it. Thanks everybody looking for her. I appreciate everybody looking for her right now. It’s very hard because I don’t know what’s going on. I just want my baby home. That’s it. That’s all I want is my baby.”
By Sunday afternoon, the statewide endangered or missing child advisory that had been issued was suspended.
The Baton Rouge Police Department was assisted by a number of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, the Louisiana State Police, and the FBI.
Nevaeh would have turned three years old in February.
Under police questioning, Gardner admitted he discovered Nevaeh unresponsive, then dumped her body without notifying law enforcement, WBRZ-TV reported arrest records indicate. He had allegedly fallen asleep while caring for her, according to the outlet.
Cardwell was also reportedly interviewed by detectives.
"I think that [police] should take everybody, the two adults, and ask them the full questions because who can identify anything about her leaving this room right here and walking down these stairs,” Casey Amacker, Nevaeh's uncle, told WBRZ.
Gardner is being held without bond and it is unclear if he’s retained legal representation.
Since his arrest, his family has spoken out in his defense.
"I can't see my son hurting a child," his mother, Kim Holmes said.
Investigators declined to release additional information this week. Questions sent to the Baton Rouge Police Department by Oxygen.com on Monday went unanswered.
Anyone with additional information related to the case is urged to contact Baton Rouge Police Department at 225-389-2000 or by submitting an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers at 225-344-7867.
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