Police: Missing Georgia toddler believed dead, mom a suspect

Quinton Simon, 20 months old. (Chatham County Police Department)

SAVANNAH, Ga. – Police who spent more than a week searching for a toddler who was reported missing from his home have gathered enough evidence to conclude that the boy is dead and name his mother as a suspect in his death and disappearance, the police chief said Thursday.

Authorities are still searching for the body of 20-month-old Quinton Simon, Chatham County police Chief Jeff Hadley said during a news conference. Police consider the boy's mother, Leilani Simon, a suspect, but Hadley said she hadn't been charged as of Thursday afternoon.

The toddler's mother called 911 on the morning of Oct. 5 to report him missing, saying she had last seen her son inside his playpen. Police and volunteers quickly fanned out across the neighborhood just outside Savannah to look for the child, who was described as last seen wearing a Sesame Street T-shirt and black pants.

In the days that followed, police obtained a warrant to search the child's home with assistance from FBI agents. They drained a pool in the backyard and used search dogs to comb woods near the house.

Hadley declined to specify what led police to believe the boy is dead.

“What I can say is the evidence we have so far based on multiple search warrants and interviews has led us to the conclusion that Quinton is deceased,” the chief said.

He also wouldn't say why police suspect the boy's mother, though he said she is currently the only suspect. Asked why police named her as a suspect but hadn't charged her, Hadley said: “We will only do that when we feel we have everything we need."

It wasn’t immediately known Thursday if Simon had a lawyer who could speak on her behalf.

Police reports and court documents show there was turmoil in recent weeks between the child's mother and grandmother, Billie Jo Howell, who had legal custody of him and an older sibling. Quinton, his mother and his mother's boyfriend lived with Howell.

Simon called police on Sept. 7 following an argument with her mother over laundry in which she said Howell had shoved her against a wall, according to a police report. No one was charged and an officer found no injuries other than Simon’s reddened elbow.

The following day, Quinton’s grandmother filed papers in Chatham County Magistrate Court to have Simon and her boyfriend evicted from her home, WTOC-TV reported.

“Just want them to move out as quick as possible. ... They have damaged my property and at this point no one is living in peace," the Sept. 8 court document read.

A few weeks later, on Sept. 28, a Superior Court judge ordered Leilani Simon to pay $150 per month in child support.

Quinton’s mother reported him missing a week later.

FBI agent Will Clarke, who supervises the bureau's office in Savannah, said agents were assisting local police in their search for Quinton within a few hours of him being reported missing. Clarke said the FBI sent a team that specializes in child abductions to help.

Hadley said his officers and the FBI had conducted an “exhaustive” search. He vowed that they won't stop.

“Sadly, we still have not found Quinton,” Hadley said. "But our search and our investigation will continue, and it will continue with every available resource we have.”