The body of Nevaeh Allen, 2, was discovered on September 26, 2021, after a 3-day search. Phillip Gardner, 30. Nevaeh’s stepfather was arrested for one count of unlawful disposal of remains and one count of obstruction of justice.
The Disappearance of Nevaeh Allen
Nevaeh Allen was born on February 7, 2019, and has been described as a “happy-go-lucky” two-year-old with a deep love of animals. She lived with her mother, stepfather and siblings at 12646 LaBelle Avenue, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On September 24, 2021, Nevaeh’s mother, Lanaya Cardwell, went to work, and the siblings went to school. When the older siblings arrived home from school at around 4:15 p.m., they discovered the apartment door was open and Nevaeh was missing. According to Phillip Gardner, he had laid her down for her afternoon nap and took a nap himself. In addition to Nevaeh, Gardner was also watching a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old.
Initial reports described Nevaeh Allen as a two-year-old female of African American heritage. She had black hair and brown eyes. She was approximately 33 inches tall and weighed 30 pounds.
Marcus Allen, Nevaeh’s biological father, stated that he had seen Nevaeh on September 22, 2021, and was scheduled to pick her up on September 26, 2021. Nevaeh’s extended family and the greater community offered any support they could. An overwhelming amount of city, county, state, and federal personnel from Louisiana and Mississippi immediately mobilized to search for the child.
What Happened to Nevaeh Allen
Gardner had initially told investigators that Nevaeh had gone missing and did not know where she was. He changed his story almost immediately. Gardner told investigators that on the morning of Nevaeh’s disappearance, Lanaya Cardwell punched Nevaeh in the stomach and as she fell, she hit her head on a cabinet. The alleged reason was because the child grabbed her mother’s contact lenses as she was getting ready for work. Gardner further explained that he drove Cardwell to work and, once he returned home with the child, he laid her down on the couch, where she became unresponsive. He said that he attempted CPR on Nevaeh, but the attempt was unsuccessful. He stated he placed the child in a suitcase, placed the suitcase in the car along with the two other young children in his care and drove into Mississippi, where he buried the suitcase containing Nevaeh’s remains in a wooded rural area.
On September 26, 2021, Gardner took investigators to the rural area of Logtown Road and Mississippi Rt. 604, Pearlington, Mississippi. FBI agents and the Hancock County Mississippi Sheriff’s Office recovered the remains of Nevaeh Allen from a shallow grave.
The East Baton Rouge medical examiner’s office uncovered numerous injuries on Nevaeh Allen. They noted she had bruises on her head, face, stomach, thighs, and buttocks. She also had brain swelling and marks on her face that resembled handprints. It was further explained that due to the severe brain trauma, Nevaeh was likely still alive when she was placed in the suitcase but suffocated to death.
The Arrest of Layana Cardwell and Phillip Gardner
In a press release dated September 25, 2021, Baton Rouge Police Department announced that they arrested Phillip Gardner in connection to the disappearance of Nevaeh Allen. Phillip Gardner was arrested and booked in the East Baton Rouge Prison. He was charged with one count of unlawful disposal of remains and one count of obstruction of justice.
Police arrested Layana Cardwell on September 29, 2021. Cardwell, 8-months pregnant, was charged with second-degree murder. The courts modified Phillip Gardner charges on September 29, 2021, to reflect the additional charge of second-degree murder. Cardwell and Gardner have pleaded not guilty to the charges. They each received a bond of $375,000. According to the United States Constitution, courts can give bail, unless it is a death penalty case or a person is facing a first-degree murder charge.
The trial of Layana Cardwell was scheduled for February 13, 2023, but was changed to April 17, 2023, due to Cardwell completing hiring a lawyer. Phillip Gardner is awaiting court proceedings.