Child's Body Found Close to Where Shaniya Davis Vanished

Police say "credible source" led them to highway for the body of Shaniya Davis.

BySarah Netter
November 16, 2009, 12:04 PM

Nov. 16, 2009— -- The body of a child was found today buried close to the town where5-year-old Shaniya Davis disappeared last week.

Shaniya had been missing for nearly a week, and was last seen in a hotel surveillance video being carried by a man who has been charged with kidnapping in the case.

Her mother, Antoinette Davis, 25, appeared in court today on charges of human trafficking and child prostitution.

Fayetteville Police Department spokewoman Theresa Chance said the child's body was discovered in a wooded area off of Interstate 87 near Sanford, N.C.

Chance declined to say that body was that of Shaniya, saying only, "It seems to be a child."

"We have no positive identification yet," Chance told a news conference.

The body had not yet been removed from the shallow grave where it was discovered. Chance said the Fayetteville police were waiting for "the FBI to help exhume the body."

She said when that was done, police would consult family members to get a positive identification.

Police found the body through "information from a credible source and that is what led us to Walker Road," where the child's remains were buried amid a thick tangle of brush, downed branches and trees.

Authorities had been working around the clock trying to bring the little girl to safety, Chance said.

"This is very hard on the officers," she said. "They have their own small children. Everyone thinks 'What if this was my child?'"

"Everyone is very tired, very tired and worn out," she said.

Davis showed no emotion during her appearance in Fayetteville District Court today, ABC News affiliate WTVD reported.

Shaniya Case Unusual in That Mom Is Charged With Trafficking, Child Prostitution, Not Dad

"The State of North Carolina alleges that on or about the date of November 10, 2009, that you did get engaged in human trafficking with a child as the victim," Judge Tal Baggett told her. "The other charge of felony child abuse for prostitution is a class E felony. That is 98 months in prison. Do you understand that?"

Antoinette Davis' aunt Yvonne Mitchell told WTVD that she and other family members don't believe the woman is guilty and said there were no signs Shaniya was in danger with her mother.

"I didn't see any. Every time I seen her, the kids were happy. She seemed happy," Mitchell told WTVD. "If there was anything wrong, it was being hid very good because I didn't notice it."

Mark Logan, executive and director of the Polaris Project and the former U.S. ambassador to combat human trafficking, called the cases of parents pimping or selling their own children "extreme," especially when they are very young.

"It's frightening to learn about the age of entry into prostitution being 12 to 14," he told today.

In general when parents traffic their own children, the fathers tend to be violent and abusive, while the mothers are typically desperate.

"But no poverty or economic desperation can along explain the prostitution of a child," he said.

While there are no numbers on how many young children are trafficked by their own parents, there are about 100,000 minors trafficked in the United States each year, Logan said.

"Most of them are runaways or throwaways," he said.

Lois Lee, the founder and president of the non-profit Children of the Night, said drugs are often involved when mothers are found to have sold or traded their children.

But the trafficking of a 5-year-old is "very rare," Lee said. "And very rare that they would call it trafficking."

Children of the Night, marking its 30th anniversary this year, typically deals with children whose ages range from 11 through 17.

Shaniya Davis Is Younger Than Most 'Trafficking' Victims

What makes Shaniya's case different is that she is not yet old enough to be considered to be "mobile," to run away on her own to escape a bad home life, Lee said.

When children are trafficked or pimped under the age of 11, she said, "usually the parents are involved."

Shaniya was last seen, according to police, on a surveillance camera video at a hotel in Sanford, N.C., in the arms of Mario McNeill, who was arrested Friday and charged with first-degree kidnapping. McNeill is being held on $100,000 bond.

Chance declined to comment on a possible connection between Davis and McNeill. A third man, Clarence Coe, has been arrested in the case, charged last week with kidnapping. The charges were later dropped, according to police, after interviews with McNeill.

Davis' other child, a 7-year-old boy, was removed from her home last week, Chance said, and is now in foster care.

Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, told the Associated Press this weekend that the little girl, the product of a one-night stand with Davis, had lived with him until recently.

Lockhart said he decided to give Davis a chance to raise their daughter after she showed him that she was getting back on her feet financially and had her own home where Shaniya could live with her.

"I should've never let her go over there," he told the Associated Press.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events