FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – A missing 5-year-old North Carolina girl was seen with a man at a hotel, but not the same person charged in her kidnapping, police said late Thursday.
Shaniya Davis was spotted in Sanford with a man identified as Mario Andrette McNeill, said Fayetteville Police spokeswoman Teresa Chance. She was seen with him Tuesday, about an hour after she disappeared from her home in Fayetteville, about 40 miles away.
Late Wednesday night, police arrested and charged 30-year-old Clarence Coe, who told a judge at his first court appearance that he is not guilty of kidnapping the girl. Police did not comment on any possible link between Coe and McNeill.
Chance said a hotel worker called police to report seeing a child matching Shaniya's description, but by the time police got there, McNeill had left. Authorities reviewed surveillance video and, after speaking with family members, confirmed the child's identity.
Chance said authorities are uncertain of the connection between McNeill and the child. Her father, Bradley Lockhart, made a tearful appeal for his daughter's safe return.
"We just ask that they bring her home safe. We all miss her and love her very much," Lockhart said. "Shaniya, if you're listening to daddy, I miss you so much, honey. I'm waiting for you. I'm not going to give up. You don't give up either, honey."
In court on Thursday, Cumberland County Judge Tal Baggett asked Coe if he understood why he was there.
"No, but I'm not guilty, sir," Coe said. He did not enter a formal plea to the kidnapping charge, and Baggett said the court would appoint an attorney.
Baggett also said Coe was also accused of "terrorizing" the child's mother, although he did not elaborate.
Chance said a witness spotted Coe taking Shaniya Davis out of the trailer park where she was reported missing.
"I think it's safe to say this is not a random occurrence," Chance said.
Chance also said authorities believe the girl is alive.
"We believe she's safe. We just want him to return her. We have no reason to believe that he would harm her, none at all," Chance said.
Barbara Davenport, property manager at Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park, said Coe is dating Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Davis, and has visited several times.
Investigators said police dogs did not pick up the child's scent during a search of the neighborhood.
"Our hopes are that she's close by," Chance said.
Coe was being held at the Cumberland County jail. He has several criminal charges on his state record, including an April conviction for misdemeanor breaking and entering, and he was released from prison in mid-August, according to Department of Correction records.
Coe was previously convicted of assault on a female, felony breaking and entering, larceny, robbery and other charges dating to 2001.
Investigators found a blanket that may have belonged to Shaniya in a garbage can outside a neighbor's home. Lt. Alex Thompson said investigators also found other items Shaniya may have been wearing.
Davis and Shaniya's father, who flew in from out of state, have been speaking with investigators.