A 21-year-old Buffalo man was charged today with the slaying of 13-year-old Lanasha “Nay Nay” Rollerson.
Darshawn Morris of 160 Hagen St. is charged with second-degree murder. Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Morris confessed to the crime after being taken into custody at around 11 p.m. Wednesday night.
Morris’ arrest followed from a tip Buffalo police received that Morris was being treated at ECMC. Derenda would not disclose why Morris was at ECMC, but said that homicide detectives arrested Morris after he was discharged from the hospital.
Morris is accused of stabbing Rollerson to death in his second-floor apartment after she attended a late-night party there.
Although details about what transpired at the party are still coming to light, police investigators have determined that the party broke up around 2 a.m. Sunday, with the murder likely occurring by 3 or 4 a.m.. Derenda said that Lanasha died from multiple stab wounds.
Police have yet to determine what prior relationship, if any, Morris may have had with Lanasha. Derenda said Morris listed married on his arrest record, and that he does not have a history of violent crime.
Asked whether the case involved a sexual assault, Derenda said investigators were awaiting the results of lab testing.
The arrest came about 24 hours after police found Lanasha’s body behind the garage in back of a Newburgh St. property bordering on Morris’ Hagen Street residence. Police said Morris hid the body there in an attempt to conceal evidence of the murder.
Derenda applauded members of the public who assisted in the police investigation.
“The tips came in fast and furious” in the days after Lanasha’s disappearance, he said. “The public really stepped up in this case.”
Derenda said he did not expect any further arrests in connection to Lanasha’s death.
As word of Lanasha’s death spread throughout the community on Wednesday, residents mourned the loss of a confident, cheerful girl who had hoped she’d be a model someday.
She had all the beauty, presence and confidence to achieve that dream, recalled her family’s pastor, Madge “Gramma” Whiskey, but Lanasha’s life ended tragically sometime early Sunday.
“She was full of life. She’d always have an impact to make,” said Whiskey, who once cared for Lanasha at her Berkshire Avenue day care. “She was an awesome child.”
The discovery of Lanasha’s body was a bitter resolution to an exhaustive days-long search by family, friends and neighbors. She was found about eight blocks from her home on Proctor Avenue on the city’s East Side.
Buffalo homicide detectives are now combing through evidence and tracking down leads for clues into Lanasha’s last hours – where she was and who she was with.
What is known is that Lanasha left home on her own. Mayor Byron Brown, who spoke at a press conference along with Derenda, said her family was not aware that she left home until Sunday afternoon.
Lanasha was last spotted late Saturday on Poplar Street, about two miles south of where her body was found. Her family reported her missing at about 1 p.m. Sunday.
Lanasha’s disappearance prompted a frantic search by her family.
Leaflets were passed throughout the neighborhood and electronic messages pleading for Lanasha’s whereabouts were posted by the girl’s mother, Tamika Maclin, and shared online by thousands as search parties scoured the neighborhood for Lanasha.
As late as early Tuesday evening, family members held out hope Lanasha might be located safe.
“We are still hopeful and prayerful that my daughter comes home safely,” Maclin wrote on her Facebook page at about 8:30 p.m. “Thanks to everyone who has shared the picture, sent love to me, and any other kind gesture.”
It was later Tuesday when police first solicited the public’s help in finding Lanasha.
A short time later, investigators received a few tips leading them to search behind the Newburgh Avenue garage where her body was recovered.
By Wednesday afternoon, the crime scene barricaded by yellow tape spanned two properties – the Newburgh house and another home behind it at 160 Hagen St.
Detectives wearing blue latex gloves carried items in plastic evidence bags, including a rusty hammer, away from the scene. Another investigator was taking photos from a second-floor porch.
Derenda also declined to comment on the search of a home on Hagen Street, the next street over from Newburgh.
A source familiar with the investigation said police believe Lanasha was with a group of young people on Poplar Street – some she knew, some she didn’t – when she got separated from the group and the situation went bad.
Hagen Street residents said they did not know Lanasha personally, but they recalled seeing her in the neighborhood often, calling her a “friendly, bubbly” girl who smiled often and loved playing basketball.
One nearby resident, who declined to give her name, said neighbors first learned about Lanasha’s disappearance through Facebook on Monday, after friends and relatives started posting photos of her.
Neighbors got together and shared what they knew about Lanasha – when and where she had been seen – and where in the neighborhood she was known to hang out, the unnamed resident told The News.
Another person recalled witnessing some suspicious activity on the block – an unknown individual or individuals had carried a mattress out of the Hagen Street home that police later searched.
On Tuesday, a search party spent hours combing the neighborhood on foot, according to one resident, who said they looked through alleys, garages and garbage totes for any sign of Lanasha.
Then, at around 2 p.m., they found a mattress behind a house up the street.
On closer inspection, they discovered that a large piece had been cut out of the top of the mattress so that “you could see the springs,” the resident said. That’s when they alerted police, she said, fearing that it might be linked with Lanasha’s disappearance.
The resident said news of Lanasha’s disappearance acutely struck neighbors, many of whom have young children.
“It took something this tragic for everybody to see that it was time for everyone to help. It could be your baby like that,” she said, snapping her fingers to emphasize the suddenness with which a young life can be cut short.
The Hagen Street community, she said, is “fed up” with violent crime. “Enough is enough already.”
Meanwhile, Lanasha’s family and friends struggled late Wednesday with news of the girl’s death.
“I always had a close relationship with her family. They all called me ‘Gramma,’ ” said Whiskey, who, besides Lanasha, has cared – or is caring – for Lanasha’s young sister, Faith, and two younger brothers, Nathan and Jordan, at Gramma’s Daycare.
“There’s nothing you can tell a mother who has lost her eldest child this way,” said Whiskey. “I’m feeling pain. I’m hurting. What do you tell a mother? You don’t want to use cliches, but you know God is in control.”