Authorities say the death of a toddler who reportedly was kidnapped near Pittsburgh last weekend and discovered in the vicinity of an Indiana County park has been ruled a homicide.
But a cause of death for Nalani Johnson won’t be determined until officials review the toddler’s medical records and more tests are completed.
Nalani, who was to turn 2 this month, was found Tuesday near Pine Ridge Park in Burrell Township after police say she was abducted in Penn Hills on Saturday evening. There were no visible signs of trauma, police say.
Sharena Islam Nancy, 25, who authorities say had been romantically involved with the child’s father, remains in custody in Allegheny County on charges of kidnapping of a minor, custodial interference and concealment of the whereabouts of a child, all felonies. No one has yet been charged in Nalani’s death.
Meanwhile, a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, bouquets of flowers, messages of sympathy and lit candles for Nalani continues to grow in a Burrell Township park near where the toddler’s body was found Tuesday.
The memorial has sprung up at the foot of a hardwood tree at the entrance to the park.
A petition at change.org calls for the park to be renamed for Nalani, or for a playground to be built at the park in her name. As of this morning, the petition has more than 4,400 signatures. Because it is a county-owned park, the county commissioners would have to authorize such a change.
And a candlelight vigil in Nalani’s memory is scheduled for about sundown, 8:15 p.m. today, in the amphitheater area between the veterans’ memorial and Conemaugh River off West Market Street in Blairsville.
The search for Nalani concluded Tuesday with the discovery of the toddler’s body in southern Indiana County.
The abduction, which had captured the attention of western Pennsylvania with an Amber Alert, ended about 1:30 p.m. when investigators discovered the girl, police told reporters. She was found “in the Pine Ridge Park area” east of Blairsville, said Trooper Steve Limani, a state police media relations officer based in Greensburg.
Results from an autopsy conducted Wednesday have not yet been made public.
Nalani’s father, Paul Johnson, told Penn Hills police that Nancy drove off in her car, with Nalani strapped in a child safety seat, at about 5 p.m. Saturday.
Investigators traced Nancy’s travels through Westmoreland County on Route 22 to the Blairsville area and back to Penn Hills by 7:30 p.m., when police stopped her car on Rodi Road. Nalani and her child seat no longer were in the car, Allegheny County police reported.
Police, meanwhile, blanketed the region with the account of the abduction and descriptions of Nalani and Nancy. Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty did not say what drew investigators to the park.
Law enforcement also congregated Tuesday at a house just east of Pine Ridge Park’s intersection with Route 22, where an Indiana County coroner truck and a fleet of other cars and officers were seen crowding the shoulder of the highway.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.