South Carolina

Missing SC baby may have been gone hours before she was reported missing

Leona Wright
Leona Wright The Greenville News

One-year-old Leaona Wright may have been taken from the Edgewood Square apartment complex hours before she was reported missing, an Anderson County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said Wednesday.

“We have reason to believe that the child may not have been there” when her mother arrived at their apartment early Saturday morning, sheriff’s spokeswoman Sheila Cole said in an email response to questions from the Independent Mail.

Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper said earlier this week that the child’s mother, 22-year-old Kiara Sullivan, came home around 5 a.m. Saturday after attending her sister’s bachelorette party. While she was out, Sullivan’s boyfriend, 33-year-old Travis Jones, was watching Leaona and her 3-year-old sister A'riel.

Leaona was reported missing in a 911 call at 9:47 a.m. Saturday. Sullivan and Jones told deputies that the front door to their apartment was open and Leaona was gone when they woke up, according to a sheriff’s report.

Search teams spent three days looking for Leaona in the area around the Edgewood Square apartment complex on Cherry Road. The search was called off Tuesday and investigators now believe that the 1-year-old was taken from the complex. Since neither Sullivan nor Jones owns a car, investigators are trying to determine if a friend or acquaintance of the couple who has a vehicle played a role in Leaona’s disappearance.

Sullivan said on Monday that she thinks Jones is responsible for her daughter’s disappearance. She earlier said that she gave Leaona a cup of juice at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and looked in on her again at 6:30 a.m. But Skipper said that Sullivan did not check on the child when she got home from the bachelorette party.

Deputies arrested Jones Saturday on an outstanding 2013 warrant. A Family Court judge sentenced him Tuesday to 120 days in the Anderson County Detention Center for failing to pay more than $5,000 in child support to an Anderson woman. Jones and the woman had a daughter in 2010. He is not the father of Leaona or A'riel.

Citing the ongoing probe, Cole declined Wednesday to release any statements that Jones has given to investigators.

Cole said in excess of 100 people have been interviewed in the case. According to Cole, the FBI offered to assist the Sheriff’s Office but later determined that “the case does not fall under their area of expertise.”

While Cole said forensic evidence has not yet been analyzed, Skipper said earlier this week that investigators did not find any blood in the apartment where Leaona lived with her sister, Sullivan and Jones.

Responding to a tip, at least 20 deputies conducted another fruitless search for Leaona on Wednesday. The search was staged near Townville at Oakdale Baptist Church, which is north of Interstate 85 on S.C. 24. Deputies spent hours in the area around Cedar Grove and Oakdale roads, Skipper said, and a boat also checked nearby coves that are part of Lake Hartwell.

About 10 miles away, the Edgewood Square complex was mostly quiet on Wednesday evening. Unlike earlier this week, no TV news trucks were in the parking lot and squirrels scurried through the creek bed where deputies had searched for Leaona.

Two flyers with information about the missing child were taped to a sign in a parking lot, along with a tiara, flowers and three teddy bears. The same flyers have been distributed to businesses in the Anderson area.

Deputies were back at the complex late Tuesday night to investigate a shooting. Witnesses said a man driving a dark sedan fired shots into two apartments about 10:30 p.m. No one was injured and no arrests have been made. Investigators do not believe the shooting is linked to Leaona’s disappearance.

According to Cole, deputies have responded to 11 calls at Edgewood Square this year. The 96-unit, low-income complex is owned and managed by a pair of companies based in Indiana.

A woman living at the complex who declined to give her name said the disappearance of Leaona and Tuesday night’s shooting have left her shaken.

“This is the worst that it’s been in the eight years that I’ve lived here,” she said.