Faux Tears for Baby Gabriel?
Aired September 26, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL starts right now.
Then, a beautiful 3-year-old girl vanishes without a trace from her West Virginia home. The little girl`s mom says the last time she saw the toddler she was in her bedroom. And when she checked on her hours later she was gone. So who took the child and why? Police remain tight-lipped. But will the secrets of the mother`s past shed light on this mystery? The little girl`s frustrated aunt joins me live tonight.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Unbelievable. On the other side, an equally horrifying story involving a little girl who`s missing.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Around 9, 9:30 I went back in to wake her up, and she was gone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A 3-year-old little girl dressed in Dora the Explorer pajamas disappears from her own crib.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That morning the mother checked on her at 6:30, the child went back to sleep. And at 9, 9:30 the child was missing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Search teams have turned this typically quiet neighborhood upside down in the hopes of bringing her home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are doing everything that they possibly can. But the more people we can get to help, the better chances of bringing her home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With no clues, search crews continue to look for three-year-old Aaliyah Lunsford who went missing from her Dennison home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE Family members say Aaliyah is a shy child. They say she never talked to strangers and would never have wandered off alone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She never leaves the house unless an adult is with her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The main mission here is to try to rescue a child.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While the search continues, investigators keep questioning Aaliyah`s family. A human remains dog was brought in, but it hinted at nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now there`s no clues leading us anywhere. No clues. It`s just like she`s just disappeared.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love her and we miss her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want her home.
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JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HLN HOST: Tonight, an adorable -- look at this precious toddler, missing and forgotten -- no, not by us. Three-year-old Aaliyah Lunsford vanished from her own home in West Virginia just about a year ago this week. She was last seen by her mother at 6:30 in the morning, says the mom, as she snuggled in bed feeling sick. Hours later and the mom says she goes back to check on the child and the little girl is nowhere to be found.
It`s a secret family members want to uncover. What happened to this child? Volunteers, local police and the FBI searched high and low for Aaliyah. They turned up absolutely nothing.
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SGT. MICHAEL POSEY, LEWIS COUNTY SHERIFF`S DEPT: We did a full canvas of the neighborhood, used K-9; now we have divers in the water. We`ve entered her "missing". Right now there`s no clues leading us anywhere. No clues. It`s just like she`s just disappeared.
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VELEZ-MITCHELL: The cops tell us this mysterious case is still an active investigation. And CBS News reports the FBI does have a working theory about what happened to this beautiful little girl and that they do not believe an intruder took the child, which is another way of saying they don`t think it`s a stranger abduction. They aren`t revealing what theory they`re working on or whether they think the child is still alive. We certainly hope so. They reportedly did describe people of interests only as a small universe.
So, again, this is the adorable little girl we`re talking about. Take a good look at her. Aaliyah`s great aunt says it seems like everybody`s forgotten her. But we`re not going to let that happen.
Aaliyah`s great aunt joins me now by phone. Thank you so much for joining us Vickie Bowen. I have to say that the first thing I noticed about the picture of the missing child and we can take a look at this, is that there is a black eye. Under her left eye you see what looks like a bruise or a blackened eye, which is unusual for a little girl.
Do you have any idea how that happened? Or was there a problem in the home with any kind of domestic abuse by anybody?
VICKIE BOWEN, AALIYAH LUNSFORD`S GREAT-AUNT (via telephone): Well, I don`t know how it happened. I know what was told to me, which I don`t believe. I was told that she ran into a door facing.
If you look at all of her pictures, you`ll see marks on her and never a smile. Yes, I do believe that she was abused.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: By whom?
BOWEN: I believe it was by her mother and stepfather.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I will say this. Lena, the mother of this child, filed for divorce from Ralph, the stepfather, right after the little girl vanished. She had been ordered by a judge to live apart from him after he allegedly, according to published reports, admitted to buying and using bath salts. Those are powerful synthetic drugs that have caused users to do some very terrible and violent things.
Ralph, by the way, has a rap sheet as long as my arm. Since 2000 he`s reportedly been charged with more than 20 crimes including domestic battery, burglary, conspiracy DUI and attempted malicious assault after allegedly swinging an axe at his niece and another man. Not a good sign.
Cops have questioned Ralph several times. They are not calling him a suspect or a person of interest. We have not been able to reach Ralph Lunsford ourselves but he is invited on our show any time to tell his side of the story or his attorney.
But I want to go back to Vickie Bowen, the great aunt of the missing child. Such a precious little girl -- breaks my heart. What do you know about Ralph? And why do you think Lena divorced him right after her daughter disappeared?
BOWEN: I think the divorce was mostly for show thinking maybe -- she knew she was going to prison for welfare fraud, which she is in prison. And I think that maybe she thought that maybe he could get the other children back. I don`t know. I don`t understand her thinking at all.
I know they were supposed to live apart, however they`d seen each other every day the whole time they were apart -- supposed to be apart.
BOWEN: It`s an act -- it really.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, did -- as an obviously responsible family member who -- and I applaud you for trying to do the right thing by this precious child. And I notice she seems very sad, the little girl, in a lot of the photos -- in fact in all of the photos. This picture she has a bruise --
BOWEN: In all of the photos.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. Tell me.
BOWEN: There was some happy pictures. She lived with my sister, which was her grandmother -- well, actually, Aaliyah was born while Lena was in jail and my sister Joanne took her home straight from the hospital. She lived -- Joanne raised her herself until Lena was about 18 months old - - or until Aaliyah was about 18 months old. Then Lena got out of prison and was on parole and had to live with Joanne.
And as soon as she got off parole she took Aaliyah and all the children, this was last May, and moved out. That`s when a lot of the sad pictures and everything started happening, I think.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, let me say this. Aaliyah`s mom hasn`t spoken much since the child`s disappearance. But here is the mother of this missing child making a rare public plea.
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LENA LUNSFORD, MOTHER OF AALIYAH: They are doing everything that they possibly can, but the more people we can get to help, the better chances of bringing her home.
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VELEZ-MITCHELL: Lena`s currently in prison for welfare fraud, as you heard. Her lawyer tells us Lena believes Aaliyah is out there alive. She has told the FBI everything she knows. Her attorney also has been quoted as saying no blood relative of Aaliyah knows what has happened to her.
So I`ll throw this out to Tina Smith, also the aunt of the missing girl. What does that mean? No blood relative knows what happened to her?
TINA SMITH, AUNT OF AALIYAH LUNSFORD (via telephone): I think she`s trying to cover something. I don`t understand why she would say no blood relative. A three-year-old little girl doesn`t just vanish into thin air.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, that`s what I wanted to ask you about. Apparently when she discovers the child missing, she says she gets in her car and drives to the point where the car runs out of gas. Tina, why would she drive when we got a toddler here who can`t get that far?
SMITH: Right. She would say that she wouldn`t leave the house without an adult. Well, if she didn`t leave the house without an adult, then why go for hours in a vehicle when the first thing is to call the police.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mike Brooks, what do you make of this very, very sad case? This poor, poor child.
MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, one of the things I was thinking about, Jane, right off the bat when this happened, when this little girl disappeared was, with all the financial problems the parents had, was she possibly sold to somebody? You know, but the FBI`s theory isn`t that it was a stranger abduction. So what does that say?
As a former investigator that says to me that the FBI believes that it was somebody close to her that is involved with her disappearance. But they have no evidence to say that right now in order to prove that, otherwise they would have arrested somebody even on a circumstantial case.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And, Vickie Bowen, there are other children. This missing child has siblings. We`ve heard half a dozen. What`s happened to them?
BOWEN: They`re all in CPS custody. When Aaliyah came up missing, Lena was pregnant with twins. The twins were born on the 10th of November. And they were taken right from the hospital into CPS custody. All the kids, you know, as far as I know they`re all separated.
BOWEN: Her brother was at a dove release ceremony on the 24th. And that`s the first we`d seen of him. He`s with his biological father.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Vickie, we have to leave it right there. But I can tell that you`re a responsible human being. I hope you get a chance to take care of some of these blood relatives and that we stay on top of this case. We promise that. This poor little girl deserves justice. We want to know what happened to her. We`re going to stay on top of this case.