The world’s attention was gripped after a 23-month-old girl was abducted from Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, then allegedly sold for $10,000.
After a frantic search, Nalani Johnson’s body was found still strapped in her carseat. She seems to have been simply abandoned in Pine Ridge Park, 37 miles from where she was abducted. An autopsy conducted Wednesday only revealed that trauma was not the cause of death, but it was definitely murder. Experienced paramedics at the scene believe she died from dehydration.
Police were first notified by the girl’s father around 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday. His initial report was that his ride-share driver drove off with the girl before he could get her out of the back seat. He didn’t tell the police he has been having an affair with the woman.
When Sharena Islam Nancy was arrested at approximately 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening, she told a totally different story. She claimed that the father had arranged for the baby to be sold for $10,000 and she was supposed to make the hand-off. Her version was that she was to drive along Route 22 in Monroeville and time 20 minutes from when she passed a certain gas station. She had been shown a photo of a “black woman” who was to flag her down so that Nancy could “turn over the toddler.”
She told police that’s what she did, “passing the toddler and the carseat over to a woman standing next to the car, and then driving off.” She reported a second woman in the silver SUV with “out-of-state” plates.
After that, she says she “drove around, smoked cigarettes and talked on the phone with her husband.” Police and the media are downplaying her story, calling it complete fiction. “The evidence does not indicate [that anyone else was involved],” Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said. “She gave statements, but I would hardly characterize them as cooperative.”
Her story does have a certain ring of truth to it though. Enough to make people wonder if the buyers decided they had a hot potato on their hands when the APB went out, and decided to get rid of the evidence. The possibility can’t be ruled out yet.
As the media started digging into the backgrounds of those involved, it turns out the father has a history of violence. Not only that, the application for a restraining order that his wife filed alleges he “admitted to almost killing” the child.
The driver of the car is the only one currently behind bars. Authorities seem to think she’s the only one responsible for everything that happened after 5:00 p.m. that fateful day. Originally from India, her husband had been deported last year. She worked for both Uber and Lyft and supported both of them with her earnings. A share of $10,000 would be very tempting to her.
Soon after the press learned she was romantically involved with the father, more of the story came out, bit by bit.
Paul Johnson, the baby’s father, and another man, Justin Rouse, took the little girl to the Kennywood Amusement Park for the afternoon. They were on the way home in Nancy’s car. Both Uber and Lyft deny the ride was booked through their services. At some point, the two men began to argue. What they were arguing about isn’t public knowledge.
Allegedly, that is when Nancy demanded the men get out of her car. When they did, she sped off with the baby.
Reporters managed to interview the woman’s neighbor, Nikki Zielinski. She relates that she heard Paul and Nancy “arguing often.” She also said something about Nancy made her seem, “not right.” Nothing she could put her finger on though. “Just the way that she would carry herself, you just know when somebody is not right. You just have that feeling or that vibe.”
Allegheny County, with more available resources, will be handling the prosecution in conjunction with Indiana County. Patrick Dougherty with the Indiana County Prosecutor’s office notes, “We’re going to try these cases together, Our office is going to work hand-in-hand with Steve’s office.”
“Everyone’s working diligently,” Stephen Zappala agrees. “This is a baby, a resident of Allegheny County. We’re all going to work together and get the appropriate result.”
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