The search for missing toddler Quinton Simon has zeroed in on a Georgia landfill nearly two weeks after he vanished in Savannah.
Chatham County police and the FBI on Tuesday revealed investigators’ belief that 20-month-old Quinton was placed in a dumpster and taken to a landfill in the area, prompting a narrowing of the search.
The update comes days after police announced they believed Quinton is dead and his mother, 22-year-old Leilani Simon, is considered the “prime suspect”. No arrests have been made in the case so far.
During a 13 October press conference, officials said they could not publicise much information on the investigation yet because they only have “one shot” to arrest and charge Ms Simon.
Asked for an update on the case against Ms Simon on Tuesday, Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley said: “I can’t get into that.”
Here is everything we know about the case so far:
When did Quinton go missing?
The toddler went missing on 5 October from his home in Savannah, a coastal city on the border between Georgia and South Carolina, in Chatham County.
Quinton was last seen at about 6am that day at an address in the 500 block of Buckhalter Road and was reported missing at approximately 9.40am by his mother, Leilani Simon.
She told police her son was playing in a playpen when he was last seen, although earlier reports suggested Quinton had wandered off, CNN reported.
A dispatch call by emergency service, which has been obtained by local media, suggested the front door to the family home was found open and that Ms Simon told 911 she “thinks someone came in and took him.”
Quinton’s babysitter, Diana McCarta, said she received a message at 9am asking if she knew where he was, and “immediately” went to the family’s home to help search for Quinton before his mother eventually phoned police at about 9.40am, she said in an interview with WSAV.
Ms MsCarta said that the family “didn’t want that (her help)” and she had been due to look after both Quinon and his three-year-old brother that day but was told not to come at 5.30am, about half an hour before he was last seen.
He was wearing a light blue Sesame Street shirt and black pants.
What has his family said?
Speaking to reporters days after his disappearance, Quinton’s grandparents said the boy’s mother “hasn’t always done the right thing,” and expressed concern for the 20-month-old.
“Sometimes she does really great, sometimes she doesn’t,” Billie Jo Howell told ABC30. “I don’t know what to think right now…I don’t know if I can trust her or I don’t. I just know I’m hurting and I want this baby home. He’s my baby.”
Ms Howell reportedly lived at the same address as Quinton and Ms Simon along with her husband Thomas Howell, and her daughter’s boyfriend, WJCL reported.
The news outlet obtained court documents alleging an eviction despite, with Ms Howell seeking to remove her daughter and her boyfriend from the property over alleged “damage” and a lack of “peace”. This remains unconfirmed, however.
The same documents also stated that Quinton’s grandparents have custody of the child, according to WJCL.
Quinton’s mother has not spoken to reporters.
Ms McCarta, who told WSAV she babysits the two children, said in an interview on 11 October that she had previously reported the family to Georgia’s department of families and children services (DFCS) with concerns, but this was unconfirmed.
The department told The Independent: “DHS/DFCS is bound by both state and federal law to protect the privacy of the people we serve. As such, we are unable to comment on the specifics of any reported abuse or neglect cases nor confirm or deny the existence of any abuse or neglect records.”
It continued: “We take seriously every report that might be made to the Department and work with law enforcement when appropriate to ensure the safety of Georgia’s children.”
At least one Facebook post from Ms Howell, which was seen by Fox News last week, meanwhile referred to the coming “calm” after a “storm”, local reports said. It remains unclear what the message behind the reshared post was, in light of an expected update from police on the evidence found.
Is there a motive?
Early into the search for Quinton, Chatham County police said they did not believe foul play was involved in his disappearance and that they hoped to find him alive, WJCL reported.
Despite that, police said they were “saddened” to report on 12 October that they believed the 20-month-old was dead and that his family had been informed.
In a statement that was shared on Facebook, police said. “The CCPD and the FBI have notified Quinton Simon’s family that we believe he is deceased”.
His mother, Ms Simon, has been named a prime suspect.
Officials held the first press conference on the case on 13 October, where they reiterated the belief that Quinton is deceased.
“To the Chatham County community, our heart breaks along with yours trying to comprehend what we believe happened here. The FBI along with our law enforcement agencies have followed every lead, every tip and every piece of evidence to get to this point and we will continue to do so,” FBI Supervisor Senior Resident Agent Will Clarke said.
Officials did not disclose the nature of evidence suggesting Quinton is dead, or why Ms Simon is the main suspect.
What agencies are involved in the search?
The FBI is supporting the Chatham County Police Department in the investigation, with law enforcement spending 18 to 20 hours a day looking for the 20-month-old child, CNN reported.
Chatham County police said in an earlier statement that it had executed search warrants and continued to interview “those who might have information that could be helpful in the investigation” with the help of the FBI.
Where have investigators searched?
In the days after Quinton was reported missing, search warrants were carried out on a nearby pond, a backyard swimming pool and the house itself in the 500 block of Buckhalter Road in Savannah, police said.
Those areas were re-canvassed on 10 October when the pool in the backyard of the home was was drained.
While it was unclear if any evidence was found or removed from it, police announced on 11 October the discovery of evidence “that we believe will help move this case forward”. That evidence went under analysis, police said.
On Tuesday 18 October, police announced that Quinton is believed to have been buried in a landfill.
Local Georgia police and the FBI think the 20-month-old was placed in a dumpster and taken to a landfill in the area, prompting a search that is now underway.
Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley said at a press briefing that “we know that this is going to be a physically, mentally and emotionally gruelling task for our investigators and team”.
“We want justice for Quinton just like everyone else,” he added.
FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Will Clarke said during the press conference that “we, along with our law enforcement partners, go into this process with heavy hearts”.
“We did not want to end up at this point. But the evidence has taken us here,” he added.
Mr Clarke said that “this will not be quick” and “it will not be easy, and the outcome is uncertain”.
“As the chief said, we want justice for Quinton, and we want to find him a proper resting place,” he said.
“We’ve been following the evidence, where it has taken us and the evidence has taken us to this landfill,” Mr Clarke added.
Chief Hadley said he was unable to share what evidence led the authorities to the landfill.
“I can’t thank the FBI enough for all that they have done,” the chief said. “They have been tremendous and phenomenal.”
“We’re not ready to charge anyone yet, we still have work to do,” he added. “We still have an investigation to do and we are not going to do anything preemptively that would harm future prosecution.”
The police chief was asked by the press how long he expects the landfill search to take.
“It’s kind of up to what happens, but as Agent Clarke said, this is not going to be quick,” he replied. “This is not going to happen within a day or so. We are here for the long haul.”
The police chief was asked about the whereabouts of Quinton’s mother, Lelani Simon, who has been identified as the “prime suspect” but hasn’t been arrested or charged.
“I believe she’s still here in Chatham County,” the chief said, later adding that he doesn’t think she’s a flight risk.
Asked why, he said, “I can’t get into that”.