Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that searchers went through 4 million pounds of waste material. An earlier version reported an incorrect amount of waste.
After more than two months and a massive landfill search, the body of a missing 5-year-old Sumter girl has been found, helping to bring closure to the girl’s family and the agencies that looked for her.
Searchers found the remains of Nevaeh Adams Friday in a landfill in Richland County, Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark announced Tuesday.
“What I saw with my own two eyes was truly life altering,” said attorney Garryl Deas, who represents Nevaeh’s family, referring to the hundreds of people who searched for her.
During an evening news conference at the Sumter Police Department headquarters, Roark announced that Adams’ body was found in a landfill owned by the Waste Management company off Screaming Eagle Road.
Authorities began searching for Nevaeh after her mother, Sharee Bradley, was found stabbed to death in her apartment Aug. 5. A suspect in Bradley’s killing said he put Nevaeh’s body in a dumpster, police said.
Nevaeh’s relatives, including the girl’s father, Dupray Adams, sat in the police headquarters, grieving and consoling each other, as the chief and other state agency leaders discussed the effort to locate Nevaeh’s body.
People in hazmat suits waded through a pit of refuse, sweat building up so dense on some 100-degree days that the face guards had to be removed to breathe, Deas said.
“It made me think that if we can come together for tragedy, think of what we could accomplish as a state if we could come together not just for the bad but the good,” he said.
More than forty agencies across the state and 400 people assisted with the search, said Maj. Stewart Robertson of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Robertson led the search efforts at the landfill, but took little credit for its success. Instead, he, like other agency leaders, said finding Nevaeh’s body resulted from so many people and agencies coming together for the “daunting task.”
On Aug. 5, a family member found Nevaeh’s mother, Sharee Bradley, dead in her Sumter apartment. Her body was wrapped in a rug, according to Sumter Police Chief Roark. Bradley died after being stabbed in the head and neck, the Sumter County coroner said.
Daunte Johnson, who police described as a transient, was seen running from Bradley’s house around the time of her death, investigators said. A witness told investigators that Johnson and Bradley had a relationship for years, according to Roark.
Johnson has a criminal record in other states and is a suspect in a Missouri homicide, according to police.
“He has a history of violence against women, domestic violence,” Roark previously said
Police arrested Johnson and, during an interrogation, he confessed to killing Bradley and her daughter, investigators said. He was charged with murder in both deaths.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has expertise with landfill searches, helped consolidate the area where the coalition would look, according to Roark.
About a dozen Department of Transportation workers in their neon yellow reflective vests stood at the news conference with their helmets over their hearts. The workers created roads into the landfill for access by the searchers, and the DOT workers created paths for debris to be dropped and sifted through with small rakes. Workers operated heavy moving equipment to excavate the layers of debris.
Beginning Sept. 17, between 60 and 80 people each day sifted through garbage with small rakes. At the end of the nearly month-long search, the crew had dug through 4 million pounds of waste, Robertson said.
Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney, whose office will prosecute the murder cases, said having the body will make getting a guilty verdict much easier.
Other state agencies such as the Forestry Commission, National Guard, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health and Environmental Control also helped in the recovery efforts. Anthropologist Bill Stevens with the Richland County Coroner’s Office assisted in identifying the remains.
“I told them every single day that no matter what badge you wear or what uniform you wear, no matter who stands to the left or right of you … everybody was part of this effort,” Robertson said.
Names on a picture
On the back of an enlarged picture of Nevaeh presented at the conference, people involved in the search signed their names to memorialize an event that Roark, the police chief, said made an impact that all involved “will continue to live with as professionals for the rest of our lives.”
None felt that impact more that Dupray Adams, the father of Nevaeh.
Nevaeh was playful and energetic, Adams said.
“Never had a dull day with her,” he said. “There was no sad moment with her.”
Deas, the family’s attorney, remembered her similarly from the last time he saw her at a back-to-school event.
“I just remember how that sweet girl was,” Deas said, “how pleasant she was and how kind and full of life she was.”
The child’s death has taken an “unspeakable toll on this family.”
“This is a horror story in every sense of the word,” Deas said.
But it’s a story that’s coming to an end for Adams.
Not knowing his daughter’s last moments and what she was going through has been a burden, he said. But finding her body and knowing that, as his faith teaches him, she’s with her other Father, “that weight is lifted off me,” he said.
The search effort and all the people who struggled through took that weight off, Adams said.
Adams recalled a dream he recently had. He went into the apartment where Nevaeh was last alive. In his dream, it was clean and peaceful, he remembered. He wasn’t nervous being in the place. The dream reminded him of the peace he’s beginning to feel because of the people who helped find his daughter and whose signatures on her picture will remind him of the goodness that can be found in tragedy.
“I’ll keep the names facing out,” Adams said. “So I’ll always have that.”