WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The death of 2-year-old Tierra Morgan, who was discovered face down in a stream inside Shark River Park in Neptune Tuesday, has been ruled a homicide.
An autopsy was conducted Wednesday and now the girl’s father, 27-year-old Arthur Morgan III, has been charged with murder in the case and remains at large as police and other law enforcement officials continue their manhunt.
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The cause of death was determined to be homicidal violence, including submersion in water, Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Warshaw announced.
“This is an unspeakably awful tragedy,'” Warshaw said. “It appears to be senseless and without reason.”
“The autopsy results came back and she drowned. I guess she got beat before she drowned,” the victim’s uncle, Iman Benton, told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.
A vigil was also held Wednesday. People came from all over to remember the little girl, who met a tragic death.
“There’s another angel in heaven tonight and that’s the sin of it. And it was senseless,” said April Chillemi.
Morgan was last seen on a platform of the Asbury Park train station Monday night between 7 and 8 p.m., the prosecutor said.
Young Tierra was found dead still strapped in her car seat. On Tuesday, three teenagers stumbled upon the girl’s body while they were walking home from school.
“We were crossing over the bridge and my friend looked down into the water and he saw what looked like a car seat and he said he saw what looked like a foot, too,” Joe Valencia, told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.
Valencia said that he and his friends were “hoping and praying” that what they witnessed was “some sort of a sick prank or something.”
Authorities think Morgan may have left the state. There are 13 law enforcement agencies assisting in the case, including local police, various transit police departments in New York and New Jersey, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI.
Investigators said the child was last seen with Morgan Monday afternoon when he picked her up for an unsupervised court-ordered visit, his first visit in a month.
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When Morgan failed bring her back to her mother at the agreed-upon deadline that evening, she called police. The toddler’s mother had to be rushed to the hospital after hearing the news.
Family friends have been coming by her house to try and bring the woman some comfort.
“I was here with the mother last night. They’re hurt now, I really just can’t explain it. They just hurt now,” Troy Lee told CBS 2.
Relatives said they believe Morgan is homeless and that he picked up baby Tierra in a white Cadillac, out of which he was apparently living, so they could go to the movies.
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