SANFORD, N.C. – A missing 5-year-old whose mother was accused of offering her for sex was found dead off a heavily wooded road in a rural area Monday, ending a weeklong search, police said.
Searchers found Shaniya Davis' body early Monday afternoon about 100 feet off a road southeast of Sanford, in central North Carolina, Fayetteville Police spokeswoman Theresa Chance said. She declined to comment on a cause of death or the condition of Shaniya's body.
"We've got a lot of people out at the scene right now that are torn up," Chance said. "Detectives have been running off adrenaline to find this little girl and to bring her home alive. You have a lot of people in shock right now."
Two people have been charged in her disappearance, one of them her mother, Antoinette Davis, 25. Police charged Davis with human trafficking and felony child abuse, saying Shaniya was offered for prostitution.
Davis was calm and quiet during a five-minute court appearance in Fayetteville on Monday afternoon. She provided one-word answers to the judge's questions and held her hands in front of her, without handcuffs. She requested a court-appointed attorney and did not enter a plea.
Her sister, Brenda Davis, 20, said outside that she does not believe the charges.
"I don't believe she could hurt her children," said Brenda Davis, who was able to speak to her sister at the jail Sunday.
Authorities also charged Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, with kidnapping after they said surveillance footage from a Sanford hotel showed him carrying Shaniya there. Authorities said McNeill admitted taking the girl, though his attorney said he will plead not guilty.
Davis reported Shaniya missing Tuesday. Authorities first arrested a man named Clarence Coe, but charges against him were dropped a day later when investigators tracked down McNeill after receiving a tip from a hotel employee.
Additional information led investigators to a search site near Sanford on Sunday. They continued searching Monday, scouring miles of landscape, roads, ravines and fields on four-wheelers and with helicopters.
After Shaniya's body was found, a solemn group of searchers met quietly at a nearby fire station to ensure that all volunteers were accounted for.
"We were hoping that someone could carry her home," said Syd Severe, 42, who came from Raleigh to help with the search. "It's just sick."
A cluster of emergency vehicles and law enforcement personnel gathered where Shaniya's body was found, about a quarter mile from N.C. Highway 87. Authorities blocked access to the road, a rural area popular with hunters that is less than a mile from a large lakeside community.
Chance said later Monday that authorities were waiting for an official identification but had called off the search for Shaniya. State investigators were planning to remove her body from the scene.
Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, said he raised his daughter for several years but last month decided to let her stay with her mother. He had pleaded for her safe return.
Lockhart told The Associated Press on Saturday that he and Davis never argued about him raising Shaniya, and Cumberland County courts had no record of a custody dispute. He described his relationship with Davis as a "one-night stand" and said he did not know McNeill.
Davis struggled financially over the years, but she recently obtained a job and her own place, so Lockhart said he decided to give her a chance to raise their daughter.
"I should've never let her go over there," he said Saturday night.
Before Shaniya's body was found, he said on CBS's "The Early Show" Monday that he remained hopeful someone would bring his daughter somewhere safe, such as a police station or hospital.
"They can drop her off at Walmart, I don't care," he said.
A friend at Lockhart's home Monday afternoon said Lockhart did not want to speak with reporters.