Police have tip girl's body was dumped

Police and volunteers found Davis in a wooded area near Sanford Monday morning (Jim Schumacher photo)
November 16, 2009 10:39:02 AM PST
Fayetteville police said Monday they were acting on a tip that missing 5-year-old Shaniya Davis' body has been dumped near Sanford. Spokesperson Theresa Chance said it was a strong tip, but they had not confirmed the girl is dead.

"Obviously we still hope to find her safe and sound," said Chance.

Authorities resumed their search Monday morning in and around a heavily wooded field bordered by Highway 87 south and Walker Road -- just south of Sanford.

Volunteers, first responders K-9 units and forensics investigators have been involved. Chance said there were roughly 250 searchers split up into multiple groups.

Tony McGilveary, who lives near the search site, is helping authorities.

"I heard they were searching in the woods for the little girl, so I thought I'd do my county duty and come down and try to help out," McGilveary told Eyewitness News.

Chance said police have all the help they need for now and were not asking for more volunteers.

Shaniya Davis was last seen at a Comfort Suites hotel in Sanford last week - the same morning her mother reported her missing from her Fayetteville home. Police say a surveillance video showed the child with 29-year-old Mario McNeill.

The area where police are searching is about 7 miles from the hotel.

Click for images from the search, surveillance video, and for pictures of missing Shaniya Davis

McNeill turned himself in Thursday night and police say he confessed to taking the 5-year-old. However, McNeill's attorney told reporters his client would plead not guilty.

Chance said investigators have been working around the clock in the case.

"We have a lot of tired people," she said.

Police arrested the child's mother, Antoinette Davis, Saturday. She is accused of human trafficking, prostitution and felony child abuse. Warrants say she provided her daughter with intent that the girl be held in sexual servitude.

Antoinette's relatives told Eyewitness News she would never harm her children.

"She's not a bad mom," said Leona Cromartie, Antoinette Davis' aunt. "She wouldn't hurt her kids. That's not her style."

Cromartie says her niece was doing a good job raising Shaniya.

Shaniya was living with her father until he recently let her move in with her mother.

"Net gave him Shaniya until Antoinette could get on her feet and get a better place for her children," Cromartie explained.

Family members do not believe the charges against Antoinette are true.

"But you can't stop people from saying things," said Yvonne Mitchell, Antoinette's aunt. "You don't know whether they're true or not. But if they don't have any proof of it, they really should not be saying that."

Antoinette has another child and authorities say the Department of Social Services had been looking into living conditions at the family's home in the Sleepy Hollow Mobile home park. However, relatives say they had no reason to believe Shaniya was in danger living with her mother.

"They seemed to be doing fine," Mitchell said. "When I seen them, they seemed to be doing fine. We all was at my mother's house. Antoinette seemed fine. Shaniya seemed fine. They was laughing and playing with the other little brother. He was fine. I mean everybody seemed to be ok."

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