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Police Say Kidnapping Suspect And Father Of Missing Toddler Were Romantically Involved

Sarah Boden
Nalani Johnson's grandmother speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.

A woman accused of driving off with a toddler as the father got out of the car had been romantically involved with the man and there was an argument before she drove off, authorities said Tuesday.

*This is an ongoing story and will be updated regularly. 

Sharena Islam Nancy, 25, and the father of Nalani Johnson met on social media and were "in the beginnings of an intermittent romantic relationship," Superintendent Coleman McDonough, of the Allegheny County police department, said at a news conference.

Nancy, who works as a ride-hailing driver, had spent several hours with the father, a friend of his and the child before the alleged kidnapping in Penn Hills, he said.

"This was not an arbitrary Uber/Lyft — they were known to each other," McDonough said.

Credit Allegheny County
Allegheny County
Nalani Johnson is just shy of her second birthday.

Police said Monday the child's father told investigators that he and a friend were riding in a car driven by Nancy on Saturday evening. When he got out of the car and was moving to get the child out of her car seat, Nancy drove off, he alleged.

Authorities now say an argument that began between the friend and Nancy prompted the two men to get out of the car, but as the father was moving to get the child out of her car seat, Nancy drove off.

Nancy was charged with kidnapping, custodial interference and concealment of the whereabouts of a child, all felonies. She alleged she turned the child over to a woman in a silver SUV during a roadside rendezvous. Nancy said the child's father "sold" the toddler and was delivering her on the father's instructions. McDonough said investigators "have nothing to corroborate or suggest that that version of events is correct."

"We have a situation where we have two versions of events at the same time, similar versions up to certain point in time during the day and then the versions differ dramatically, so a lot of our investigative efforts are trying to corroborate one version or the other," McDonough said.

McDonough said investigators are trying to narrow down the large search area to find the toddler. They have been asking people to provide information about Nancy's whereabouts before she and her vehicle were apprehended, and also asked for people to be on the lookout for the missing car seat.

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said a child abduction response team comprised of FBI and county detectives was immediately mobilized, and a national rapid deployment team of agents specializing in child abductions has been in the area since Sunday.

The child's grandmother Taji Walsh thanked law enforcement and volunteers for their efforts in trying to find the girl, who turns 2 this month.

"We miss Nalani, and we want her home," Walsh said, pleading for anyone with information to call investigators.

No attorney was listed in court documents for Nancy, and a listed number for her could not be found.

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