After five years, West Virginia authorities investigating the disappearance of a 3-year-old girl have arrested her mother with her murder, PEOPLE confirms.
Lena Lunsford, 34, called 911 the morning of Sept. 24, 2011, to report her daughter, Aliayah Lunsford, was missing from her Weston home.
According to court records, Lunsford allegedly told investigators that when she checked in on her daughter earlier that morning, Aliayah was safe and sound, asleep in her bed.
But she allegedly said that when she returned to her daughter’s room hours later, Aliayah was gone. Lunsford was eight months pregnant at the time, and soon after, delivered twins, according to court records.
Lunsford was arrested on Thursday in Florida and is on her way back to West Virginia after waiving extradition, authorities tell PEOPLE.
For weeks following her disappearance, law enforcement officials scoured the county in search for the missing girl. The Federal Bureau of Investigation got involved, and dive teams searched a river close to Lunsford’s house.
Authorities believe Aliayah died inside her home, hours after sustaining blunt force trauma — allegedly at her own mother’s hands, according to court records. Investigators allege that Lunsford struck the little girl in the head with “a solid handheld object” and subsequently failed to bring the child to the hospital, the documents state.
She died within hours of the fatal blow.
Lunsford allegedly tried covering up the murder by concocting a kidnapping story, the court records state. Police allege she destroyed evidence of the killing and hid her daughter’s body. She also allegedly threatened people who witnessed the crime, the documents state.
Lunsford was detained Thursday in Pinellas County, Florida, on a charge of death of a child by a parent by child abuse. She was no longer in Florida as of Monday, according to jail records.
Lunsford had been living in an apartment in St. Petersburg, Florida.
It is unclear if police have recovered Aliayah’s body, and little is known about what led investigators to the allegations against Lunsford.
It was not immediately clear if she had retained an attorney.
Family members, however, take little comfort in Lunsford’s arrest.
“We tried to prepare for this day,” Vickie Bowen, Aliayah’s great aunt, told West Virginia Metro News. “We’ve known in our hearts for years now that Aliayah is gone, but we all still held out that one little thread of hope. Now that’s gone.”
Sheriff Gissy, who offered very few details about the investigation during the news conference, said investigators found witnesses who had direct knowledge of Aliayah’s death. He didn’t say anything on who those witnesses were and didn’t take questions from reporters. He said more information will be released at a later date.
“They ought to be tried too,” Tina Smith, the little girl’s aunt said of the witnesses, according to West Virginia Metro News. “Five years. Why wait five years?”
Lunsford was pregnant with twins when she reported Aliayah missing, according to media reports. She was charged with welfare fraud shortly after she reported her daughter missing and was sentenced to eight months in prison.
Lunsford had also filed for divorce from Ralph Lunsford, Aliayah’s stepfather. She had lost parental rights of her six other children.
“How could you do this to your own child?” Smith said of Lunsford. “She didn’t deserve any of this. She was an innocent baby.”
This 911 call sounds legitimate to me. Honestly I would have really wanted to believe her. But in 2016 this bitch is arrested and charged with the murder. Well I’ll be damned!
Now who did she threaten? Her other children? News reports say that whoever informed authorities about the crime is in custody. Not as arrest but as a witness. I can’t help but feel like it was a child. What if it was her ex husband?
Makes me think about Aleah Beckerle and it gives me a little hope. Maybe one day one of those girls will come forward with what they know. Now for those of you who do not know who she is she went missing back in July 2016 . Same scenario . These stories play out for many many years to come. Just when you think you’ve gotten away with the crime some evidence could surface. Perhaps somebody became an adult and moved out and decided to tell. You never know what could have happened in this situation to bring her heinous crime to light. Either way I am glad that it did. The most difficult part about these types of crimes is we never know the outcome. We never know who to trust. You don’t know whether the story is true. It is extremely difficult.
And when a child is truly missing and the parent is the victim of a kidnapping, we don’t know whether to believe it or not so we come up skeptical from the get go. Don’t blame the writers. This 911 call is the reason why I’m such a skeptic. I don’t mean to come off as accusatory but when I read stories about children missing and it is determined later that the parents committed the crime …but what do you expect? Even when you attempt to give them the benefit of the doubt. They could still possibly be the culprit behind that child’s disappearance.
I went around looking at different sites and I can hear the arguments between people who felt like the mother was genuinely upset and genuinely distraught at The Disappearance of her child. They were extremely Adamant back in 2011 that this mother had absolutely nothing to do with The Disappearance of this child. Well I would love to speak with these people today and see how they feel.