CALGARY – Searchers scouring a rural area outside Calgary found a body believed to be that of Taliyah Leigh Marsman on Thursday, dashing hopes that the curly-haired girl last seen near her home with polka-dot boots and a red suitcase, would be found alive.
At a sombre news conference, Calgary police revealed that by the time they were called earlier this week, the five-year-old — who relatives said had just learned to ride a bike and was to begin Grade 1 this fall — was already dead.
They also announced they had charged a suspect, Edward Delten Downey, 46, with the first-degree murders of the girl and her mother, Sara Baillie, 34.
Baillie’s body was found Monday night in the basement suite the airport restaurant waitress shared with her little girl. The next day, an Amber Alert was issued.
“We were hoping for a different outcome and worked hard for that other outcome,” said Insp. Don Coleman.
“There was nothing we could do before we even got involved.”
On Thursday afternoon, searchers near Chestermere, Alta., found the girl’s body near a roadway and police issued a news release cancelling the alert.
Police Chief Roger Chaffin said over the last three days, there were 100 officers working around the clock.
“Unfortunately they are completely devastated by the loss, as am I,” he said.
Taliyah’s cause of death was not known; an autopsy will be held Friday. Police are not revealing how Baillie died.
The heartbreaking end to the search prompted an outpouring of grief from those who knew the mother and daughter, as well as strangers who had hoped for the best.
“This is so heartbreaking,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley wrote on social media. “My condolences to the family of Taliyah and Sara — may they rest in peace.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi simply said “Our hearts are all broken.”
CFL player Nik Lewis, who was a friend of Baillie’s, said he was struggling to understand the tragedy.
“They say everything happens for a reason, but there is no reason to ever take the life of anyone, especially a child. My heart hurts,” he wrote on social media. “I was at the airport for 30 min and looked for u last week, as I always did when I was there — 11 years wasn’t long enough.”
Over the last few days, police and relatives alike had tried to stay positive, begging whoever had the girl to return her unharmed.
Baillie’s aunt and uncle, Scott and Marilynne Hamilton, pleaded for Taliyah’s safe return at a news conference on Tuesday, flanked by friends, coworkers and relatives.
“Taliyah, honey, if you’re watching this, we love you. Stay strong, honey,” a weeping Marilynne told the news cameras.
“She will be found,” her husband said, his voice cracking. “It’s a matter of time.”
Police even warned that it would be in the person’s best interest not to harm Taliyah, noting that prisoners in jail do not take kindly to those who harm children.
On Wednesday, a suspect was taken into custody at a strip mall.
Coleman said earlier Thursday the man was believed to be the same one witnesses saw Monday with a girl matching Taliyah’s description, adding he was giving “zero co-operation” to investigators.
By Thursday night, Coleman said his co-operation was “limited.”
Coleman also said the suspect was known to police and had an extensive criminal background with some violence.
Downey, who also goes by the last name Simmons, appeared before a judge late Thursday. He was ordered to have nothing to do with the child’s estranged father, Colin Marsman.
Police said it’s believed Downey was known to both parents and the child.
There had been a “limited” history of domestic violence in the family, but police said Marsman co-operated with the investigation and issued his own plea for his little girl to be returned.
Relatives had described Taliyah as a vivacious and curious child.
Hamilton, had said his niece was single-handedly raising Taliyah, who was described as much more mature than her five years.
He described the two as “inseparable” and said Taliyah “worshipped” her mother.
“Taliyah referred to Sara as Mama and it wasn’t necessarily like a mother-daughter relationship,” he said earlier in the week. “It was almost like watching two sisters at times get along.”
The mother’s Facebook page showed a photo last week of Taliyah at the Calgary Stampede, smiling in a white hat and riding a straw bale pony.
The page also carried a video of the little girl reading a book, with her mother writing: “She fills my heart with so much joy.”