NIAGARA FALLS – When Sharon Lascelle went to bed Sunday night, she left her 5-year-old great-granddaughter, Isabella Sarah Tennant, in the care of a person she trusted.
Less than 24 hours later, Isabella was found dead, a teenager who was supposed to be caring for her was charged with murder, and neighbors and police officials were struggling to comprehend what had happened.
“The great-grandmother is beside herself,” said Capt. William M. Thomson, chief of detectives for the Niagara Falls Police Department. “It’s a terrible crime. It tears at your heart. I have grandchildren the same age as this victim, and it is horrible.”
Police late Monday charged John Robert Freeman, 16, of Sixth Street, with second-degree murder. He’s accused of killing the girl with his hands, said police, who found no indication that weapons were used in the death.
Freeman’s friend, Tyler Scott Best, 17, a Buffalo resident who has been staying with Freeman for the past year, allegedly helped move Isabella’s body. Best was charged with evidence tampering. The two teens are scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. today in City Court.
Family and friends stood under umbrellas in tears Monday afternoon as Isabella’s body was recovered and identified after being found in a garbage can in an alley between Third and Fourth streets, just a few blocks from where she went missing.
Isabella, who lived in Cheektowaga, had been staying overnight at her great-grandmother’s house on Sixth Street while her mother worked at Player’s Sports Bar in Niagara Falls.
Before Lascelle went to bed Sunday night, she allowed Freeman, who was considered a “trusted family friend” into the house to watch Isabella, as he had done on other occasions, police said.
Isabella was reported missing at 6:20 a.m.
Freeman, who was the last person to see Isabella, was immediately brought in for questioning Monday morning, according to Thomson.
Freeman told police he had last seen the girl at midnight, then recounted a story that had nothing to do with Isabella, Thomson said.
Police decided to hold Freeman as a person of interest before charging him.
Bloodhounds from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office initially led investigators to a different site, where they did not find the body.
Best then came to police headquarters just after 9 a.m. and led police to a garbage can in an alley between Third and Fourth, near downtown.
The two friends had placed the dead girl into a trash bag and then into a garbage can, which they moved to the 500 block of Third, authorities said.
Best became involved in the crime only after Isabella was dead, according to police.
“It would have been very difficult to find her without him,” Thomson said. “He let us know what he knew. Apparently [he] just assisted after [the fact].”
Thomson said the girl was found fully clothed. He said there were signs of trauma, but no signs that any weapons were involved.
An autopsy is scheduled for this morning in the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“It is very disturbing. We don’t have any motive for this,” Thomson said.
Capt. Frank Tedesco said police did not put out an Amber Alert, which is used to tell the public that a child is missing and in danger, because there had been no sign of any force.
“You need to suspect there is an abduction and the person is in danger of injury or death,” Tedesco said.
“In this case, she was just reported missing. Investigators at the scene saw no sign of any force, [no] hair, blood or anything like that. We put out all precautionary measures.”
Worried neighbors gathered near the crime scene Monday and waited anxiously for news.
Jason Pete of Fourth Street, the father of a 3-year-old girl, said he had moved to the area from Myrtle Beach, S.C., less than a month ago and said he never lets his daughter out of their gated yard.
“Nobody is coming in our house,” Pete said. “She will never be left alone until she is 30.”
Jen Emel, of Fifth Street, and her mother, Danica Fauth, of Willow Street, walked into the alley with five young children after the police left, just to say a prayer for Isabella.
“I can’t believe she was just stuffed in a garbage can. We prayed for Jesus to take her to heaven and send that boy to hell,” said Emel, who was carrying her 5-year-old daughter.
“My heart goes out to the family. There has been a huge outpouring across the city,” Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said at a news conference later Monday.