WESTON, W.Va. — Aliayah Lunsford’s family members had choice words for the recently arrested Lena Lunsford, the woman police believe dealt the fatal blow to her 3-year-old daughter on Sept. 24, 2011.
“How could you do this to your own child?” Tina Smith, Aliayah’s aunt, said through tears on the steps of the Lewis County Courthouse. “She didn’t deserve any of this. She was an innocent baby.”
“That woman has no heart,” said Vickie Bowen, Aliayah’s great aunt and Lena Lunsford’s aunt. “She has no soul. She does not deserve the title of mother.”
At a Friday morning news conference that lasted less than five minutes, Sheriff Adam Gissy revealed that law enforcement discovered direct witnesses to Aliayah’s death. However, investigators had not yet recovered Aliayah Lunsford’s remains.
“The investigation has led us to believe that the one person who possesses this knowledge of Aliayah’s whereabouts is in police custody,” Gissy said.
The criminal complaint alleges that Lena Lunsford “knowingly and intentionally” struck Aliayah in the head inside their Bendale home.
“We tried to prepare for this day,” Bowen said. “We’ve known in our hearts for years now that Aliayah was gone, but we all still held out that one little thread of hope. Now that’s gone.”
The complaint additionally alleges that Lena Lunsford did not initially provide help or medical assistance to Aliayah Lunsford and did not permit others to assist the child, who was “visibly suffering from trauma caused by the strike.”
Additionally, police believe Lena Lunsford “did knowingly and intentionally take steps to conceal the crime.”
Those steps allegedly including originating a fictitious narrative regarding the death, destroying evidence, concealing Aliayah’s body, and instructing witnesses to conceal the true circumstances of Aliayah’s death.
Vickie Bowen read those words by phone to another family member, directly from the criminal complaint, following the news conference. The words drew a heated response from Tina Smith.
“The one’s that had knowledge — they ought to be tried too,” Tina Smith said. “Five years. Why wait five years?”
The length of time involved in this investigation also drew heated criticism from the family.
Neither Bowen or Smith are immediate family members to Aliayah Lunsford. Aliayah’s grandmother (Bowen’s sister) passed away shortly after Aliayah went missing.
“I said I’d be here until Aliayah’s found and until justice is served for Aliayah,” Smith said.
But, despite that promise, they both claim that their relationship with law enforcement assigned to the case has deteriorated. Neither woman was invited into the press conference and didn’t find out about Lena Lunsford’s arrest until they began seeing news reports on Thursday.
“How does it make us feel?” Bowen said. “Pretty damn mad, to tell you the truth. We’ve been with this from day one. We’ve been through, literally Hell, for the last five years. And we’re treated like crap for it.”
Gissy attempted to dispel that notion during the press conference.
“This investigating has been quite trying for all involved,” Gissy said. “The perception may have been that law enforcement was not putting forth the appropriate effort in investigating this notable case. However, by relentlessly probing the one big break that was essential in bringing forth, closure has come to fruition.”
Bowen and Smith said they can take only one silver lining: Lena Lunsford’s eight other children have been out of their mother’s custody for years.
“Aliayah’s my hero,” Bowen said.
“She was all the kids’ heroes because she took what they didn’t have to give,” Smith said. “Now they don’t have to go through all of that anymore.”
Lena Lunsford, extradited from Florida and returned to West Virginia following Thursday’s arrest in Pinellas County, Fla., is in prison on a $250,000 bond.
Lunsford’s preliminary hearing in Lewis County Magistrate Court is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m.