Sheriff: Mother of girl, 3, who disappeared in 2011 arrested
By The Associated Press
WESTON, W.Va. — The mother of a 3-year-old girl who disappeared in 2011 was arrested Thursday in Florida and was being sent back to West Virginia to face charges, authorities said.
Aliayah Lunsford was 3 years old when she was reported missing on Sept. 24, 2011, from her West Virginia home. At the time, hundreds of people aided federal, state and local authorities search in the search for the girl as FBI investigators went door to door and dive teams scoured a local river.
Sheriff Adam Gissy in West Virginia’s Lewis County told The Exponent Telegram that the missing child’s mother, Lena Lunsford, was in custody in Pinellas County, Florida. He added that she was awaiting extradition on a charge of death of a child by a parent by child abuse.
Gissy declined to tell the newspaper whether the girl’s body had been found. Calls to the sheriff’s office by The Associated Press were not answered Thursday.
Pinellas County jail records showed the 34-year-old woman was booked there Thursday on a fugitive warrant from West Virginia on that charge and subsequently released Thursday afternoon from jail to be returned to Lewis County. Lunsford had been living in an apartment in St. Petersburg, the largest city in that county on Florida’s Gulf coast.
It wasn’t immediately clear if she had an attorney.
Calls to the Lewis County prosecuting attorney were not returned
Lena Lunsford had reported she had checked on her daughter in her bed early the morning of Sept. 24, 2011, and then found her gone when she looked in on her again later that morning. At the time, the woman was eight months pregnant and subsequently gave birth to twins.
Lunsford spent eight months in prison for welfare fraud after he daughter vanished, then had additional short stays 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.
In 2011 during the search for the missing girl, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children dispatched a retired investigator to advise local officers.