(PENN HILLS, PA) — A ride-share driver who was charged with kidnapping a Pennsylvania toddler after she claimed the child’s family sold the girl for $10,000 has been romantically linked to the child’s father, authorities said at a press conference Tuesday.
The child’s father, 21-year-old Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, resident Paul Johnson, told investigators Saturday afternoon that a woman driving a black Toyota Yaris with Uber and Lyft stickers had just kidnapped his daughter, according to a criminal complaint from the Allegheny County Police Department on Saturday.
Johnson was “crying and visibly upset” when police arrived on the scene around 5:02 p.m., according to the complaint. He told officers from the Penn Hills Police Department that he and his friend, Justin Rouse, were riding in the Yaris when the driver stopped at the intersection of Bryant Drive and Clay Drive to let them out. After Johnson exited the car, the driver, 25-year-old Sharena Nancy, allegedly drove away before he could take his daughter out of the car seat, he told police.
The child was identified in a police press release as Nalani Johnson. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists her age as 1 year old. She will turn 2 this month, ABC Pittsburgh station WTAE reported.
Nancy allegedly dodged numerous calls Johnson placed to her cellphone requesting that she return his daughter, according to the complaint. He then called 911.
Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough told reporters during a news conference Tuesday that Johnson and Nancy were in an “intermittent romantic relationship” after they become acquainted on social media over the last few months.
“So, they were known to each other,” McDonough said, emphasizing that this was not a case involving a ride-share order on Uber or Lyft apps.
The pair had “spent several hours” with each other during the course of the day on Saturday before an argument ensued in the car between Nancy and Rouse, said McDonough, who didn’t disclose the nature of the argument.
Johnson and Rouse exited the car in front of the home of an acquaintance with the intention of taking the child with them, and Nancy allegedly drove off, McDonough said, adding that Johnson had been in the front seat at the time.
She was captured on surveillance video Saturday afternoon around 5:30 p.m. at a Sheetz convenience store on Penn Highway in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, according to the criminal complaint. An Amber Alert detailing Nancy’s vehicle was issued soon after.
Just before 7:30 p.m., officers spotted the car driving on Rodi Road. When Nancy was pulled over, the child and the car seat were not inside the vehicle, according to the complaint.
Nancy initially told investigators during an interview that Johnson “sold” the toddler to an unnamed individual for $10,000. Nancy said that Johnson asked her to drive Nalani “20 minutes” from a gas station in Monroeville along U.S. Route 22 and that Johnson showed her a photograph of a black female who would “flag” her down along the route, according to the complaint. Nancy said she was instructed to turn the toddler over to the woman in the photo.
Nancy told detectives “she did as Paul Johnson” instructed her and encountered a silver SUV with out-of-state license plates parked on the side of the road with its hazard lights on, according to the complaint. She said a black woman was standing next to the car, and another black woman was inside the car.
Nancy allegedly gave the child to the woman standing outside the SUV, according to the complaint. She told investigators that she then drove to Monroeville and sat in her car while smoking cigarettes and talking on the phone to her husband, who lives in Bangladesh.
Currently, investigators are attempting to corroborate two different versions of events that day, McDonough said. The versions are “similar up to a certain point in time,” he added.
There is no evidence at this time suggesting that the child was given to a woman in a silver SUV, McDonough said.
Nancy was arrested on Sunday and charged with the kidnapping of a minor, interference with custody of children and concealment of the whereabouts of a child, according to the criminal complaint.
Nalani was last seen wearing a black tank top adorned with flamingos and the phrase “Born to Shine” in gold lettering, as well as a black skirt with flamingos and black sandals, Johnson told investigators.
“Our family, we miss Nalani, and we want her home,” the girl’s mother, Taji Walsh, told reporters during the press conference Tuesday.
Investigators are asking anyone who knows Nancy or who saw the black Toyota Yaris with license plate KLW-3926 being driven by Nancy to contact them. Members of the public should be on the lookout for the missing car seat, an Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Seat. The car seat is primarily black but gray in the seat area.
“Our priority is to locate Nalani Johnson as soon as possible,” McDonough said.
A Lyft spokesman told ABC News the case was deeply disturbing, adding that even though the incident didn’t occur while Nancy was using the Lyft platform, she’s been permanently banned from driving for the company.
Nancy was not active on Lyft at any point on Saturday, the spokesman said. She last drove with Lyft on Friday, the spokesman said.
An Uber spokeswoman told ABC News via email that no one by that name took trips using that app this past weekend.
ABC News could not immediately reach Nancy, Johnson or the child’s mother for comment. It’s unclear whether Nancy has retained an attorney.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.