Nalani Johnson

Nalani Johnson: Death of tot girl found in woods expected to be ruled homicide, police say

Pennsylvania authorities announced that the death of 1-year-old Nalani Johnson is expected to be ruled a homicide after she was found deceased Tuesday in an Indiana County park.

Officials are still waiting on the autopsy results in connection with Nalani’s death, who was found lifeless in a wooded area of Pine Ridge Park on Tuesday afternoon. Nalani was at the center of an AMBER Alert created on Saturday after her father, Paul Johnson reported her missing.

The manner and cause of death will be officially announced when the autopsy is complete, officials said, but they fully expect homicide charges.

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Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty released a joint statement Thursday, explaining the charges.

“Officials involved in the investigation of the death of Nalani Johnson, including District Attorney Zappala and District Attorney Dougherty, met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the particulars of the case and how to proceed moving forward.

“Although the cause and manner of death for Nalani Johnson are pending further test results by the Indiana County Coroner, the expectation is that the manner of death will be homicide.

“At the conclusion of the meeting, it was agreed that all of the charges resulting from the investigation will be prosecuted in Allegheny County with District Attorney Dougherty and the Indiana County District Attorney’s Office having a significant partnership role in the prosecution.

“The Allegheny County Police Department will remain the lead investigative agency with Westmoreland and Indiana counties, along with the Pennsylvania State Police continuing their involvement as well.”

Investigators reportedly told local reporters with CBS Pittsburgh that the little girl may have died from dehydration. There were no visible injury signs on her body.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, Nalani’s father, Paul Johnson, reported her missing Saturday after accused kidnapper, Sharena Nancy, allegedly fled in her car with the girl. Johnson said his daughter and his friend Justin Rouse were in the car with him on the day in question, as he rode with Nancy in her black Toyota Yaris.

According to police, an argument broke out inside the vehicle. Nancy demanded the men get out of her car, but she allegedly fled the scene before Johnson could get Nalani out of the vehicle. It’s unclear what the argument was about, but police said Johnson and Nancy were in an “intermittent” romantic relationship.

Sharena Nancy [Police Handout]
Nancy has been charged with concealment of whereabouts of a child, interference with custody, and kidnapping. Additional charges may follow, pending the results of an autopsy.

The suspect claimed that Johnson told her to drop the little girl off with an “unknown person” after he sold the child for $10,000. Investigators said they’ve found no evidence of what Nancy alleged.

As of now, no one else has been charged in connection with the little girl’s disappearance and death, but court paperwork obtained by CBS Pittsburgh reveal Johnson has been accused of prior violence.

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Nancy’s neighbor, Nikki Zielinski, told CBS Pittsburgh that she heard Paul and Nancy arguing often. She also said Nancy seemed “not right.”

“Just the way that she would carry herself, you just know when somebody is not right. You just have that feeling or that vibe.”

On Tuesday evening, Dougherty held a brief conference and ensured the public that authorities are working to bring the “individuals” involved in the child’s death to justice.

“Make no mistake, we are working very hard to ensure the individuals involved are brought to justice,” Dougherty said.

The story continues to develop. Check back for further details.

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[Feature Photo: Nalani Johnson/Police Handout]