SANFORD, Fla. - The body of a child discovered on Tuesday in Putnam County has been identified as a missing 2-year-old girl from Sanford.
Sanford police said 32-year-old Rachel Fryer's 2-year-old daughter's remains were found at 117 Madison Ave. in Putnam County. Police said 2-year-old Tariji Gordan was found in a shallow grave in Crescent City. In the woods nearby, a suitcase was found and is believed to have been used in the crime.
Fryer, a mother of four, turned herself in on Monday night and was arrested on aggravated child neglect charges. She was taken to the John E. Polk Correctional Facility in Sanford and was being held on no bond.
Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith says investigators found on Monday Fryer buried her child's remains in Putnam County.
Armed guards held the scene secure until Tuesday morning, when investigators found Tariji's body exactly where her mother said it would be.
Fryer told police she found Tariji unresponsive when she went to wake her up last Thursday morning after a Seminole County sheriff's deputy left her home. Only one of the four children was awake, officials said. The mother told officials that after the deputy left she went to wake up the baby and the child was unresponsive. In her arrest affidavit, investigators described how Fryer says she performed CPR on her child and heard the baby gasp for air.
She told police she used her child's asthma nebulizer but got no response.
Instead of calling 911 she wrapped her child's body in a blanket, put it in a suitcase and brought it to Putnam County, where she buried Tariji in a shallow grave and spent the night on the porch of the house nearby.
Family and neighbors gathered Tuesday night to remember Tariji during a candlelight vigil held at 13th Place and Oleander Drive.
Aja Lytle is Rachel Fryer's sister-in-law.
"That was my goddaughter. Of course it saddens me that she's no longer here," said Lytle.
But family and friends said they're withholding judgment until an autopsy is done on the little girl.
"She has mental issues. I'm thinking she panicked. All she was thinking is they're gonna take my kids, I just got my kids back," said Lytle.
A good friend, Lawanda Carr, believes the toddler's death was an accident.
"I've known Rachel since I was a little girl and doing something to that baby just don't sit well," said Carr.
Timothy Gordon, Fryer's boyfriend, turned himself into Sanford police for questioning on Tuesday evening and left shortly after.
Sanford police on Monday said they were notified by DCF to assist with a welfare check on a child living at a house on Oleander Avenue in Sanford.
The family had been reunified in November and continued to receive regular visits by case managers, according to officials. The last reported visit to the home was documented on Feb. 6, when the DCF caseworker came to check on the family.
The Department of Children and Families held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, discussing the 2011 case with the family of the missing child and the reunification process.
According to documents released Tuesday afternoon, the agency has investigated six abuse allegations against Fryer since 1995. The documents also show DCF had two other children permanently removed from Fryer's custody.
DCF said Fryer's children were taken away from her two years ago when Tariji's twin brother, Tavont'ae Gordon died on May 13, 2011. Fryer did not have any criminal charges filed against her, as investigators deemed Tavont'ae Gordon's death as accidental, caused by Fryer accidentally rolled over on the child, according to DCF.
DCF found enough evidence of substance abuse to remove the four remaining children from the home and place them in foster care.
After placing the children in protective custody, the case was transferred to Community Based Care of Central Florida, which oversaw the foster care and reunification process.
DCF said Fryer completed the program necessary to be reunited with her children, but the children's father did not, so he was not reunified.
DCF said it was the court's decision to reunite the children with Fryer in November 2013 after she passed a case plan that was required of her, including drug tests. After she passed, the court had no legal ground to keep the children away from their mother, DCF said.
Anyone with information can call Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS. Police said calls made to Crimeline remain anonymous, and tips to Crimeline that lead to solving a felony case are eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000.
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