W. Va. woman arrested in Pinellas for murder of daughter

Deputies arrested a West Virginia woman in connection with the disappearance five years ago.

***UPDATE***

LEWIS COUNTY, W.Va. (WDTV) -- Five years after Aliayah Lunsford's disappearance in Bendale, some questions have finally been answered. Aliayah's mother, Lena Lunsford, was taken into police custody and details have emerged into the alleged child abuse that led to her daughter's death.

Police believe in September of 2011 Lena Lunsford struck her three-year old daughter in the head with an object and she later died in their home.

The criminal complaint goes on to say Lunsford did not provide any medical assistance nor did she allow anyone else to. Police say Lunsford took steps to conceal the crime by creating a fictitious narrative, destroying evidence, concealing the body, and instructing the witnesses to hide what they knew. The complaint says this is supported by witness testimony and photographic evidence.

The press conference Friday only confirmed what was already known: Lena Lunsford was arrested Thursday in Pinellas County, Florida and arraigned in Lewis County Friday morning.

The Lewis County Sheriff notes this all begs the question 'Where is Aliayah?' The only answer given was this:

"The one person who possesses this knowledge of Aliayah's whereabouts is in police custody," said Sheriff Adam Gissy.

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ORIGINAL STORY:

It's been a mystery for five years: what happened to a missing West Virginia toddler? The case may have been cracked open here in the Bay area with the arrest of the little girl's mom in St. Pete.

3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford vanished from her home in 2011. The sheriff in Lewis County, West Virginia, tells 10News that the girl’s mom has always been a person of interest in the case. She’s now the prime suspect, charged with her daughter's death.

“When a child is missing, we were all eager to help,” says family neighbor Linda Carr in Weston, West Virginia..

Neighbors in Weston haven't stopped searching and wondering what happened to little Aliayah Lunsford. Now it appears her mom, Lena, has been living in St. Pete with the secret of her daughter's death.

“A lot of people have always felt that's where the answer did lay with this whole mystery,” says neighbor Michelle Hefner.

Lena Lunsford had told investigators she saw her 3-year-old sleeping in bed around 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 24th, 2011. When she went to check on her again around 9 a.m., she claimed, Aaliayah had vanished.  But her mom didn't report Aliayah's disappearance for two and a half hours. She claimed she'd been out looking for her.

“They all think the same thing: she didn't come and look for her little girl," says Hefner. "I'll tell you that if one of my kids came up missing, I couldn't sleep. I would keep looking. I wouldn't stop. 

"I would still be looking, and she didn't."

There are still so many unanswered questions. What led investigators to Lunsford in St. Pete in the first place? She's charged with “Child Abuse Causing Death,” but the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office isn't confirming if or whether Aliayah's body's been found. 

It's upsetting to West Virginia neighbors. “That house is right there! If I would ever, ever have seen a little girl, I've never seen a little girl outside,” the neighbor says, who tells 10News she can’t imagine a mother hurting her own child.

“We are happy to provide Lewis County with assistance in this case. She was transferred to the Pinellas County Jail, where she'll face extradition,” says PCSO Sgt. Spencer Gross.

Since Aliayah's disappearance, Lunsford's been in and out of jail for welfare fraud and lost custody of her six other kids. Lewis County Sheriff Adam Gissy tells 10News that he would have liked to have found Aliayah alive, but now hopes there will at least be justice for her.

“I'm glad. Justice needs to be served. I hope we do get some resolution to it,” says Carr.

Sheriff Gissy promises to reveal more about the investigation in a news conference Friday morning in West Virginia.

10News will stay on top of developments in this case.

(© 2016 WTSP)


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