Authorities responded to the motorists’ emergency call at 11:20 a.m. They found the woman, identified as Erica Newsome of Jacksonville, Fla., 150 feet up a hillside on an old logging road. Beside her was the dead body of her 11-year-old daughter, police told local news media.
Newsome, 37, was arrested on charges of concealing the body of her daughter, Kaye-lea Plummer, according to the Associated Press. She is being held in West Virginia’s Southern Regional Jail on a $50,000 cash bond. It was not immediately clear on Tuesday if she had retained an attorney.
Officials have not disclosed a cause of death, but West Virginia State Police Sgt. Herby Barlow told local news outlets that the girl had died in Jacksonville at least 24 hours earlier. Foul play was suspected, he said.
“It was obvious that the 11-year-old did not die from injuries from the accident,” Barlow told the Pocahontas Times. “Her injuries were non-motor vehicle injuries.”
Newsome told investigators that she pulled her daughter out of bed in their mobile home in Jacksonville on Friday morning and put her in the truck, according to the Pocahontas Times. She said in a Miranda statement that she planned to take the girl to Buffalo, where her estranged husband lived, according to the newspaper.
During the two days it took to drive from Florida to West Virginia, the girl did not move, eat, drink or use the restroom, Newsome reportedly said in the statement.
Authorities said they wouldn’t have gone looking for the child if Newsome hadn’t been spotted by the passing motorists — who were reportedly in the area to attend a bluegrass festival.
“She had not been reported missing,” Barlow, the police spokesman, told local media. “If she had been with the vehicle, it would have been a different story. We would have treated it like any vehicle accident and called a wrecker.”
Newsome’s husband, Donath Plummer, told News 4 Jax that he married his wife in 2007 but separated with her two years later. He said he had not seen Newsome or his daughter in person since 2014, when they moved to Jacksonville.
Then on Saturday morning Plummer received an out-of-the-blue text from Newsome saying she was bringing his daughter to him. Later that day, she texted him again saying they were having car troubles and needed to rest, he told News 4 Jax.
On Sunday, police came to his workplace with news that his daughter was dead, he said.
Plummer described his wife as a “great mother” and “the only person I trusted with my child,” and said he couldn’t understand why she would have hurt their daughter.
“Something pushed her over the edge and she snapped,” he told News 4 Jax. “Something is very, very wrong. She needs help. She really needs help.”
“I just wish I could have been there,” Plummer said of his daughter. “I can’t imagine what she actually went through.”