Nalani Johnson

Nalani Johnson

A Blairsville woman’s bid to honor the memory of a Pittsburgh-area toddler has drawn more than 18,700 signatures as of this morning on a petition.

“We would like Pine Ridge Park to be renamed Nalani Johnson Park,” Nadia Tillman wrote. She is seeking 25,000 signatures on a petition that would have to go to Indiana County officials.

Nalani, who would have turned 2 on Sunday, was found dead on Sept. 3 in a wooded area near the Burrell Township park. She still was strapped into the car safety seat in which she was riding when she disappeared on Aug. 31, allegedly in the custody of a woman reported to be the girlfriend of the child’s father.

If the park is not renamed for her, Tillman wrote, “(at) the very least have a playground installed in her honor. Pine Ridge will always be associated with this terrible tragedy, so (it) might as well be used to allow Nalani’s memory to live on.”

While no official ruling has been made by the Indiana County coroner’s office, prosecutors in Allegheny County virtually declared last week that Nalani was murdered.

Sharena Nancy, 25, of Penn Hills, Allegheny County, was arraigned Sept. 2 on felony counts of kidnapping, interference with custody of a child and concealment of the whereabouts of that child.

Torkowsky denied her bail and she was placed in the Allegheny County Jail, pending a preliminary hearing first slated for Monday before Penn Hills Magisterial District Judge Anthony L. DeLuca. DeLuca since has continued that hearing until noon on Nov. 4.

Indiana County Coroner Jerry Overman said the cause and manner of Johnson’s death won’t be determined until completion of toxicology and other tests that could take six weeks or more, “which is a frustration for us all.”

According to a joint statement by district attorneys Stephen A. Zappala Jr. of Allegheny County and Patrick Dougherty of Indiana County, Allegheny County’s prosecutors will have the lead role in dealing with the Nancy case, while “the Indiana County District Attorney’s Office having a significant partnership role in the prosecution.”

Allegheny County Police Department is the lead investigative agency, working with state police and local authorities in Indiana and Westmoreland counties. Nalani first was reported missing after Nancy allegedly drove away with the child from a convenience store parking lot in Murrysville, Westmoreland County.

According to the Indiana County Parks website, the 635-acre property for Pine Ridge Park was purchased in 1966 and 1967 primarily with federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grants. It was built at the same time as Blue Spruce Park and Hemlock Lake.