Lanaya Brittany Cardwell, 24, and Phillip Gardner, 30, are being charged with second-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Nevaeh Allen.
Last week, Cardwell reported her daughter missing. According to police, the mother punched the toddler in the stomach, causing the baby to hit her head. Her boyfriend Phillip then disposed of the child’s body, which police found stuffed in a suitcase in a Mississippi forest.
According to the arrest information from the 19th JDC, Phillip Gardner told authorities that mother Lanaya Cardwell was getting ready for work when the toddler walked into the bathroom and grabbed the mother’s contact lenses. Cardwell was angry and punched her child with a closed fist in the stomach causing her to fall and hit her head on a cabinet. Nevaeh later refused to eat and complained of stomach pain to Gardner. Nevaeh laid down on the couch and Gardner found her lifeless.
According to the affidavit, Gardner said he tried to perform CPR, but also admitted that he did not try to call 911 and later stuffed the girl’s body into a “small suitcase.”
Gardner allegedly initially told police that when he woke up from an afternoon nap the child was missing. He told police that Cardwell was gone to work when the child went missing.
State and federal authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi immediately began a search for the child.
“On September 26, an in-depth multi-agency investigation led to the recovery of Nevaeh’s body in a wooded area in Hancock County, Mississippi. Subsequently an autopsy was conducted and it was determined that the cause of death was homicide,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said during a Wednesday press briefing announcing the arrests. “Today, Baton Rouge Police Department detectives arrested Lanaya Brittany Cardwell, the mother of Nevaeh, and she was charged with second-degree murder.”
Gardner left his cell phone so he could not be tracked. Gardner allegedly said he loaded the suitcase in the car and put it in “a makeshift grave deep in the woods” of Mississippi. He then allegedly threw Nevaeh’s clothes in the garbage and drove home to file the “false missing persons report.”
“An autopsy showed several bruises on the girl’s face and head, swelling to the brain and marks on her face ‘consistent with that of a handprint,’” The Advocate reported. “The girl’s thighs and buttocks were covered in bruises. The coroner reportedly also observed injuries on the girl’s abdominal wall, ‘which were consistent with being punched in the abdomen.’”
The forensic pathologist assigned to the case told police that “it cannot be ruled out that the victim was still alive at the time that Gardner placed her in the suitcase and suffocated to death prior to succumbing to the other injuries.”
After Nevaeh was reported missing, Cardwell spoke to reporters about the last time she saw her daughter.
“I don’t know what could have happened. I don’t know what went wrong. I wish I would have stayed home from work, I don’t know. That’s all I know,” she said through tears.
“That’s the last time I seen my baby,” she said, sobbing into the camera. “When I went to work, she had on her yellow dress with the pineapples on it, and she should have still had on that dress.”