LaGRANGE — A 2-year-old girl was back home safely Tuesday afternoon a few hours after she was reported missing and following a massive search effort by law enforcement and community members.
LaGrange police said Shaniya Cameron was with her mother, Jasmine Cameron, the entire time she was considered missing. The mother told police she and Shaniya were “somewhere” on Second Avenue, and did not realize her family thought her daughter was missing, said police Sgt. William Nelson.
Nelson said Cameron did not have a car or a cell phone, which made it nearly impossible for family and detectives to track her down to see if the toddler was with her. She also did not explain to investigators how she discovered dozens of law enforcement officers were looking for her and her daughter, Nelson added.
Nelson said the mother will not face any charges.
“‘She was in fact the child’s legal custodian,” he explained. “There will be an ongoing investigation by detectives with our Special Victim’s Unit and Department of Family and Child Services will be forwarded the report as well to ensure that there are no other areas of criminal concern connected with the case.”
Nelson also expressed his gratitude to the community for their quick response and support in helping to bring Shaniya home safely.
“In roughly two hours, the Facebook post (about Shaniya) was observed over 26,000 times and shared a couple thousand times,” he said.
LaGrange police, the Troup County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Pardons and Parole each had 20 to 30 officers searching for the little girl for almost three hours Tuesday.
An official command post was set up by the LaGrange Police Department at the East Baptist Church, at the corner of Hines and Union streets. Many law enforcement agents hit the streets on foot to look for the toddler, who was only wearing a diaper, others went door to door to see if homeowners saw the little girl, while more officers used their patrol vehicles to canvass nearby neighborhoods.
Officials with CSX were also on hand to lend support, since a set of train tracks ran close to Shaniya’s home.
Several strangers also stopped officers and deputies and showed their concern.
”Have you found her yet,” one man asked from his vehicle. “I’m going to keep looking for that baby until we find her.”
The little girl was last seen inside the house around 9:30 a.m. by her grandfather, who told police she was playing on a bed, Nelson said.
When the man passed by a few minutes later, she was gone, but he assumed the toddler was in the living room with other adults in the house, a police report states.
It was nearly a half an hour later before family members realized Shaniya was not inside the home at all.
Nelson said Jasmine Cameron did not come home the night before, and family members said they never saw her come in the home Tuesday morning and take her daughter, nor did she leave them a note.
“I’m so happy to have her home,” said Andrea Dowell, Shaniya’s grandmother. “It had me so scared. I about had a nervous breakdown.”
Dowell was the one who received the phone call from Cameron shortly before 12:30 p.m., telling her the toddler was with her and OK.
LaGrange police detectives also spoke with Cameron by phone and told her they needed to physically see Shaniya before calling off the search.
According to police, Cameron agreed to bring the little girl back over to the home on Hines Street, and 15 minutes later, Shaniya was reunited with the rest of her family.
Dowell was the first one to reach the car the toddler was riding in and scooped her up in her arms — crying, hugging and kissing the little girl in an emotional reunion.
LaGrange Police Detective Jennie Lawson, Officer Chad Bohannon and Sgt. Robert Kirby checked on the toddler and playfully tickled her and also spoke to Cameron, quietly reassuring her they were not upset with her.
“I just kept saying, ‘Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,’” Dowell said with tears in her eyes. “She’s (Shaniya) coming home with me tonight.”
— Reporter Tyler Jones contributed to this report.
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