A week after a 20-month-old was reported missing out of Chatham County, Georgia authorities said they now believe the boy is dead, and his mother has been named a “prime suspect” in his disappearance.
“We are saddened to report that CCPD and the FBI have notified Quinton Simon’s family that we believe he is deceased,” Chatham police said Wednesday. “We have named his mother, Leilani Simon, as the prime suspect in his disappearance and death.”
Leilani Simon is not in custody and does not currently face any criminal charges, Chatham police Chief Jeffrey Hadley explained to reporters during a Thursday news conference. There are no other suspects at this time, he added.
“We will only (make an arrest) when we feel we have everything that we need to — we only get one shot at this, right? We’re going to do it right,” Hadley said. “We’re going to do the best that we can. We’re going to use the resources at our disposal. We’re thankful to the FBI, and when we get to that point and we feel comfortable with counsel with the FBI and the (district attorney), that’s when we will reach that conclusion.”
Hadley said he did not know where Leilani Simon is, but added she is not considered a flight risk. He said he could not elaborate.
Quinton Simon was reported missing Oct. 5 from a Buckhalter Road home in Savannah after he was last seen by his mother’s boyfriend about 6 a.m., according to police. He was wearing a light blue Sesame Street shirt and black pants at the time of his disappearance, which was reported by his mother nearly four hours later.
“Today marks one week since Quinton Simon was reported missing. We will be at his home where he was last seen with a team of search dogs and investigators. We will spend today gathering and analyzing evidence,” the police department wrote just hours before announcing that Simon’s mother was a suspect.
On Tuesday, the police department said they seized evidence that would help move the case forward but did not say what was obtained. It was not clear why they now believe the boy is dead, and no additional details were provided Thursday.
“What I can say is the evidence that we have so far, based on multiple search warrants and interviews, has led us to the conclusion that Quinton is deceased,” Hadley said. “The investigation doesn’t end right there. We will continue to investigate this until its final conclusion.”
The home, which is owned by Quinton Simon’s grandparents, was also searched earlier this week, the Savannah Morning News reported. Multiple FBI agents were seen taping dark plastic to the windows Monday.
More than 40 federal agents and support staff have been involved in the investigation, said Will Clarke, supervisory special agent for FBI Savannah. Their involvement was requested less than three hours after the toddler was reported missing.
“Our heart breaks along with yours in trying to comprehend what we believe happened here,” Clarke told the community. “The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, have followed every lead, every tip and every piece of evidence to get to this point, and we will continue to do so.”
According to the Savannah newspaper, the toddler and his older sibling were in the custody of their grandmother, Billie Jo Howell. She filed a dispossessory notice with the Chatham County Magistrate Court in early September to evict Leilani Simon and her boyfriend from her home.
“We know that thousands of people around the world will be heartbroken by this news, and we share your sorrow,” the department said on Facebook.
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Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC