Who is Philip Gardner? Stepfather held in connection with 2-year-old girl's death
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA: The body of a two-year-old girl who had gone missing in Louisiana on Friday, September 24, has been found in Mississippi. Her stepfather has now been arrested for disposing of her body. Nevaeh Allen's body was found in a remote area across state lines in Mississippi on Sunday afternoon, September 26.
Authorities arrested 30-year-old Phillip Gardner, Allen's stepfather, on charges of disposing of the body. He has, however, not yet been charged in connection with her death directly. A two-day search led to authorities discovering the body of the toddler, who had gone missing in her Baton Rouge neighborhood.
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According to Allen's mother, Lanaya Cardwell, Gardner had put the toddler down for a nap and later fallen asleep himself at around 1 pm. When her oldest son came home some hours later, he found that the door was open and Allen was missing. Her mother was away at work and later confirmed that Allen, who was affectionately called Nu Nu, was not someone who would wander off. "I never once had to correct Nevaeh for even leaving the house without an adult. Navaeh knows better," she said.
Allen's disappearance led to a massive search, with the FBI joining in on Saturday, September 25. "Nevaeh, the little girl, my little boy and her daddy drove me to work and that’s the last time I saw my baby,' Cardwell told WAFB amid the frantic search for her daughter. 'I don’t know what could have happened. I don't know what went wrong, I wish would have stayed home from work. I don’t know, I don’t know."
Initially, Gardner told investigators that he was sleeping and woke up to find the door unlocked, and Allen missing. "The story done changed," Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr said after the arrest on September 26, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. Further interviews with the stepfather made police fear that the worst might have happened.
"Evidence and interviews points to the unimaginable," McKneely said before Allen's body was discovered. "The baby may be dead. 'We’re currently working with law enforcement partners and search crews to locate the child’s body." Gardner reportedly told authorities that he had found the toddler 'unresponsive and lifeless', and subsequently disposed of the body. So far, he has not been implicated in her death.
The toddler's body was discovered in the Logtown area of Hancock County. Louisiana authorities will take the body over for autopsy. Family members confirmed that Gardner and Cardwell were in a toxic relationship, and there would even be violence at times, involving Allen.
Was Gardner abusive?
Recalling an alleged incident, Cardwell's mother, Jessica Billiot, said that Gardner had hit a pregnant Cardwell and a neighbor called the police. No report could be filed because the couple did not answer the door when the police arrived. Recounting a separate incident, Billiot said that she saw Gardner 'have a fit at' the toddler for spilling slime on the carpet. He then forced her to hold a vacuum and asked her to clean it up. Gardner allegedly threw the vacuum at the wall when Cardwell questioned him. "Nevaeh starts crying," she said. "To me, there were some things going on there that I did not like."
Allen's father, Marcus Allen, last saw her on September 22, Wednesday. That day, he dropped his daughter off to spend the week with Cardwell and Gardner and was supposed to pick her up on Sunday, September 26, by which time she had already gone missing.
Marcus described Allen as 'the perfect 2-year-old' who loved animals. He said that he was skeptical of the story Gardner had come up with about her disappearance. "He's the last family person to see her," he said. "It honestly makes no sense."