Missing Indiana girl found dead, babysitter arrested
FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The neighbor who was babysitting a 9-year-old Indiana girl when she went missing last week will be formally charged with murder Tuesday, a heartbreaking turn for the girl's relatives who considered him a family friend.
.AP Photo/The Journal Gazette, Cathie Rowand
During an interview Sunday, Amber Story, left, Tarah'smom, and Tarah Souders talk about Tarah's daughter Aliahna Lemmon, 9.
Authorities said Monday night that Aliahna Lemmon had been found dead and Mike Plumadore, who was watching Aliahna and her two sisters when she went missing Friday, was being held on a murder charge. He and Aliahna's family lived in the same mobile home park in Fort Wayne.
"He was a trusted family friend," Aliahna's step-grandfather, David Story, told The Associated Press late Monday, saying he was surprised by the arrest.
Plumadore, 39, is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday morning.
Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries said Plumadore told investigators on Monday where the girl's body could be found, ending the hopes of authorities that Aliahna would be found safe.
"It did come to a horrible conclusion," Fries told WANE-TV. "We have somebody in custody now who can pay the price for it."
Investigators said Aliahna's body was found in the northeastern Indiana county, but no details were released.
On Monday, FBI agents descended on the rundown mobile home park where Aliahna lived and was last seen. It's a known haven for registered sex offenders, though Plumadore is not on Indiana's registered sex offenders list. He has a criminal record in Florida and North Carolina that includes convictions for trespassing and assault.
No active search was done Sunday for Aliahna, though more than 100 emergency workers searched for her Saturday around the mobile home park. Allen County sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel said the same size search could not be sustained because of the Christmas holiday.
Aliahna's mother, Tarah Souders, told The Journal Gazette on Sunday that her daughter had vision, hearing and emotional problems and suffered from attention deficit disorder. Aliahna and her sisters were staying with Plumadore because their mother had been sick with the flu and Aliahna's stepfather works at night and sleeps during the day.
Plumadore told the newspaper Sunday that he left the three girls in his mobile home about 6 a.m. Friday and went to a gas station about a mile away to buy a cigar. Authorities have said the store's surveillance video shows him there about that time.
"I had dead-bolted the door," he said. "When I got back, all the girls was here."
He said he smoked his cigar and went back to sleep, then woke up about 10 a.m. when Aliahna's mother called. After that call, he realized the door to the home was unlocked and that Aliahna was gone. He said Aliahna's 6-year-old sisters told him Aliahna had left with her mother.
Plumadore said it wasn't until he talked with Aliahna's mother about 8:30 p.m. that they realized she was missing and police were notified. Souders said the miscommunication caused the delay in determining that Aliahna had vanished.
"She's never wandered off," she said Sunday.
The sheriff said Plumadore was arrested after being interviewed by detectives for several hours Monday — and was also questioned Friday and Saturday.
"The story just didn't make sense to our investigators or to me when I first heard it," Fries said. "I thought this is the guy we needed to focus on. If we are going to find her, he's going to be the one who has the answers for us."
Elizabeth Watkins, who lives nearby, said residents are cautious and keep to themselves in part because of the number of sex offenders living in the mobile home park. According to a state website, 15 registered sex offenders live in the park that numbers about two dozen homes. Watkins and she didn't know Plumadore and was shocked when told of the girl's death.
"I'm numb, I'm totally numb. I don't know what to think," she said.