Two-year-old Noelani Robinson, who has been missing since her mother was fatally shot, appears to have been found dead of blunt force trauma to the head in Minnesota, authorities said Saturday.
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said at a news conference Saturday that the body of a child believed to be Noelani was found wrapped in a blanket on a roadside outside of Blooming Prairie in rural Steele County, Minnesota, around 7 p.m. Friday.
Minnesota authorities have tentatively identified the child as Noelani. A medical examiner there determined Saturday that the preliminary cause and manner of death was homicide due to blunt force trauma to the head.
Agents from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and crime scene personnel executed a search warrant at a hotel in Austin, Minn., where it is believed that the suspect in the case, Dariaz L. Higgins, stayed at one point during the past week.
Higgins is in custody at the Milwaukee County Jail and has been charged charged in the fatal shooting of Noelani’s mother, Sierra M. Robinson, 24. Higgins, who was Robinson’s former pimp, allegedly killed her and wounded another woman Monday in the 6300 block of North 91st Street.
“We believe we have found Noelani. We believe that currently, this is going to be a death investigation,” Morales said at a news conference Saturday.
He offered his condolences to Noelani’s grandmother, Latosha Bryant, who had made a tearful plea for the child’s return.
Asked if Higgins was responsible for the child’s death, Morales said, “That’s where the criminal investigation is shooting for. It’s just too early to tell. Obviously, we need the autopsy to assist us, the time of death and the venue. We believe we’re headed in that direction.”
Morales said the body of the child was found by an off-duty public works employee who noticed something odd off the side of a road in Steele County, Minnesota, about 90 minutes south of Minneapolis and west of La Crosse.
“Just off the shoulder was a blanket and inside that blanket and wrapped in there was a body of a child we believe to be that of Noelani,” Morales said.
Morales said the child appears to have been there for “quite some time.” But he said police will know more after an autopsy is conducted by authorities in Minnesota.
The Steele County Sheriff later confirmed in a press release that the body was found in a ditch off Highway 218.
Morales dispatched two detectives to Minnesota to help with the case as it proceeds in Milwaukee.
“We believe this death did not occur within the last 24 hours. She had been there for quite some time, which is consistent with the suspect’s time when he was in that area in Minnesota,” Morales said. “That’s consistent where we believe we’re going with the investigation.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he was “deeply saddened” by the news that Noelani’s body had been found.
“She was a beautiful toddler and her life was cut short as a result of human trafficking,” he said. “Her unfortunate death is a reminder of the dangers of human trafficking.”
The child’s death was first reported by Milwaukee community activist Vaun Mayes, who said he was asked by the family to confirm that they were told that the child was found dead.
On Saturday, Mayes said that Bryant, Noelani’s grandmother, wanted to thank the community for showing its support to the family. Her focus at this point is on funeral arrangements for her daughter and granddaughter.
A Go Fund Me account has been established to help the family, which is coping with the tragedy.
“Please continue to send support and prayers as their family fights through this, trying to grasp and understand these acts of senseless violence,” Mayes said.
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SOURCE: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Annysa Johnson, Bill Glauber and Mary Spicuzza