The mum of a toddler missing for almost seven weeks has been charged with his murder after police revealed they found human remains buried in rubbish at a landfill.
On Monday, Leilani Simon, 22, was arrested and charged in connection with the disappearance and death of 20-month-old Quinton Simon, police in the US said.
Ms Simon reported Quinton missing from their home in Savannah, Georgia, on October 5, saying she had last seen her son inside his playpen. He was described as last seen wearing a Sesame Street T-shirt and black pants.
A week after a massive search was launched, the police department announced they believed the toddler had been killed, named his mum as the prime suspect and revealed there was evidence suggesting Quinton’s remains were at a nearby landfill.
In an emotional press conference this week, Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley said human remains had been discovered after a “gruelling and hazardous” search of more than 500,000kgs of rubbish.
“This is a heartbreaking development,” he said. “From the beginning, we were hopeful we would find him alive and unharmed. But evidence has always pointed to the mother and we believe his remains were found in the landfill.”
The FBI, which has assisted in the search and other aspects of the case, is working to confirm the remains are those of the child. Chief Hadley said the police department has “a high level of confidence” that the remains belong to Quinton, which is why they moved to arrest Ms Simon.
The 22-year-old has been charged with malice murder, concealing the death of another person, false reporting, and making false statements. No other arrests are anticipated in connection with the case.
Chief Hadley said “every member” of the police department has been impacted by Quinton’s disappearance and praised the devotion of detectives who worked “tirelessly” to “uncover every piece of evidence”.
Mum pleads for son's safe return
After being named as the prime suspect, Ms Simon made a tearful plea to local media for her son’s safe return and hit out at protestors who she claimed had targeted her home with “Baby Killer” signs. “We’re in limbo just like everybody else is,” she told WTOC-TV. “We’re sitting here every day waiting for answers.”
“We want him back in our arms, holding us. That’s what we want,” she added. “We’re just hoping that he’s in somebody’s house and they’re feeding him and maybe they wanted a baby or couldn’t have a baby. Maybe they thought they were his saviour. That’s our best hope at this point.”
Ms Simon said she wasn’t “running away” or hiding from police. “And if something does come up that I am at fault, I will take myself to that police station,” she said.
Mum seen drinking at bar after disappearance
Two weeks after her son’s disappearance, local media published a photo of Ms Simon and her mother, Billie Jo Howell — who had legal custody of him and an older sibling — drinking for hours at a bar in a nearby holiday town. Daily Mail reported that the pair were seen taking shots of tequila while sitting with a large group of people.
Police reports and court documents show there was turmoil in recent weeks between Ms Simon and Ms Howell. Quinton, his mother and his mother’s boyfriend lived with Ms Howell.
The @WSAV Investigative Unit has learned as federal agents were ending their first day of searching for #QuintonSimon in a dump, his mom and grandmother were taking shots and drinking at a popular Tybee Island beach bar. pic.twitter.com/iQ1nXxFSGO
— Brett Buffington (@BrettWSAV) October 19, 2022
Ms Simon called police on September 7 following an argument with her mother over laundry in which she said Ms Howell had shoved her against a wall, according to a police report. No one was charged and an officer found no injuries other than the 22-year-old’s reddened elbow.
The following day, Quinton’s grandmother filed papers in court to have Ms Simon and her boyfriend evicted from her home, WTOC-TV reported.
“Just want them to move out as quick as possible. They have damaged my property and at this point no one is living in peace,” the court document read. A few weeks later, on September 28, a Superior Court judge ordered Leilani Simon to pay $150 per month in child support. Quinton was reported missing a week later.
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