Search for 5-year-old reaches tragic end; body found Monday

By Nancy McCleary
Staff writer

SANFORD - It was the ending everyone had feared.

A body believed to be 5-year-old Shaniya Davis was found Monday afternoon - a week after the Fayetteville girl went missing - in woods off a rural road south of Sanford.

Volunteers who had spent nearly two days searching for Shaniya wept upon learning a body had been found.

Police have not identified the body as Shaniya and were working with relatives to make a positive identification. There was no information available on the cause of death late Monday. The girl's mother and a Fayetteville man are charged in her disappearance, though no additional charges had been filed.

Shaniya was reported missing Nov. 10 from her home in the Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park off Murchison Road.

The body was found about 1 p.m. roughly 100 feet off Walker Road, which is a popular spot for dumping deer carcasses, said Theresa Chance, a spokeswoman for the Fayetteville Police Department.

Walker Road is just south of the Carolina Trace community and about 41/2miles south of the intersection of U.S. 421 and N.C. 87 in Lee County.

Members of the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department, who were training in Sanford with their police dogs, found the body.

It was the second day law enforcement and volunteers had combed the rural, wooded area.

The search resumed in full force about 7 a.m. Monday, focusing on an area of about 11/2miles, from N.C. 87 to Frank Wicker Road and back along Walker Road.

At least 250 people were scouring the area that was partially covered by kudzu, a thick vine that smothers the ground and creeps up trees.

Jeff Riccio, a dog trainer with Tarheel Canine Training Inc., was with the Virgin Island officers when the body was found.

"We went to look for the command post on Walker Road ... and we smelled something," Riccio said.

They left the area and headed south to Benhaven Volunteer Fire Department, where another searcher mentioned the dumped deer carcasses.

Riccio and the officers, acting on a hunch, returned to Walker Road.

"One of the guys from the Virgin Islands, one of the guys who wasn't handling the dogs, said, 'I think I found something,' " Riccio said.

One of their cadaver dogs alerted on a spot in a ditch where they found the body, Riccio said. Deer carcasses were scattered around the site.

"It was both relieving and terrible at the same time," Riccio said.

Shortly after noon, police moved their command post to the Benhaven Volunteer Fire Department, about two miles south of the area. The new site had barely been set up when word that the body had been found was announced.

Todd McNeill of the Carolina Trace Fire Department broke the news, said Tonya McBride, a mother of four from Sanford who helped with the search.

"He was emotional; his voice was cracking," she said.

"A gentleman who was behind me, when they said she (Shaniya) was dead, I've never seen a grown man cry like that," McBride said.

The discovery of the body hit volunteers - many of them parents - hard. Most of them said they felt compelled to help.

"If, God forbid, it was one of my children, I would want everyone to help out," McBride said.

Another volunteer, Reginald Monroe of the Lemon Springs community, was angered by the outcome.

"This is a terrible thing. To do this to a 5-year-old," he said, shaking his head. "I'm very angry and outraged."

Monroe, a father of three, said he felt he had to take part.

Andy Thomas, chief of the Benhaven Fire Department, and his wife, Jennifer, said the tragedy hits hard with parents.

"There's nothing to prepare you for a child to die," Andy said.

Deborah Rush of Anderson Creek and Laura Heidemann of Lemon Springs searched on horseback along Frank Wicker and McDougald roads.

They heard over a two-way radio the body had been found. Even then, they didn't want to believe the news.

"We kept hoping," Heidemann said. "We kept checking the ditches all the way back."

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