Mom hid daughter’s body before reporting her missing, police say

Aliayah Lunsford was reported missing in September of 2011. An age-progression photo is shown at right. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children photos
Aliayah Lunsford was reported missing in September of 2011. An age-progression photo is shown at right. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children photos

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A St. Petersburg woman who was arrested for the death of her 3-year-old daughter, hit her on the head with a blunt object and watched her die after refusing to seek medical help. She then hid the girl’s body and reported her missing five years ago, West Virginia authorities said Friday.

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In a criminal complaint, Lewis County investigators said Lena Lunsford also instructed others who were with her at the time to keep quiet about what really happened. The complaint did not name the witnesses.

Lunsford reported Aliayah missing on Sept. 24, 2011. Now 34, she was arraigned Friday on a charge of death of a child by abuse and jailed with bail set at $250,000. She did not enter a plea. She was extradited from Pinellas County to face the charges. A defense lawyer was not immediately assigned to her case, court officials said.

“The investigation has led us to believe that the one person who possesses knowledge of Aliayah’s whereabouts is now in custody,” Sheriff Adam Gissy said. Gissy declined to answer further questions at a news conference Friday, citing the ongoing investigation.

FBI agents went door to door, dive teams scoured a local river, and hundreds of volunteers helped federal, state and local authorities search for Aliayah after Lunsford reported her missing. Lunsford told police she had checked on her daughter in her bed early in the morning then found her gone when she looked in on her again later. She was eight months pregnant at the time and subsequently gave birth to twins.

After Aliayah vanished, Lunsford spent eight months in prison for welfare fraud and lesser amounts of time on probation violations, records show. Her parental rights were terminated by the West Virginia courts, and her six other children were put in state custody.

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