Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Andrea Blanco

A missing toddler feared dead in a landfill with his mother as prime suspect. What happened to Quinton Simon?

Chatham County Police Department / Facebook

On 28 November, the FBI confirmed that 20-month-old Quinton Simon’s remains were discovered in a Georgia landfill.

After Quinton Simon went missing, authorities had executed a gruelling search for his body.

The early stages of the search for little Quinton, who vanished on 5 October from his home in Savannah, Georgia, were marked by hopes that he would be found safe. His remains were discovered on 18 November.

After two weeks into the search, authorities announced that the boy is believed to be dead and buried somewhere in a Chatham County landfill. At the same juncture, police revealed his mother, 22-year-old Leilani Simon, is the “prime suspect” in the case.

When she first reported Quinton missing, Ms Simon told investigators that she believed someone had come inside and taken him from the home she shares with her mother, stepfather and children.

As the FBI search zeroed in on the Waste Management landfill, Ms Simon was seen drinking tequila at a bar in the neighbouring Tybee Island with his mother, sparking outrage within the community and calls for her arrest.

On 24 October, Ms Simon made her first media appearance, saying she’s “not hiding” despite what she described as “devastating harassment” from the public.

In an odd turn given authorities’ confidence that Quinton is deceased as a result of his mother’s actions, Ms Simon said she hopes the boy will be found “happy and alive”.

Here’s everything we know about the case so far:

Disappearance and early reports

Quinton went missing on 5 October from his home in Savannah, a coastal city on the border between Georgia and South Carolina, in Chatham County.

He was last seen at about 6am that day at an address in the 500 block of Buckhalter Road and was reported missing at approximately 9.40am by his mother, Leilani Simon. She told police her son was playing in a playpen when he was last seen, although earlier reports suggested Quinton had wandered off, CNN reported.

A dispatch call by emergency service, which has been obtained by local media, suggested the front door to the family home was found open and that Ms Simon told 911 she “thinks someone came in and took him.”

Quinton’s babysitter, Diana McCarta, said she received a message at 9am asking if she knew where he was, and “immediately” went to the family’s home to help search for Quinton before his mother eventually phoned police at about 9.40am, she said in an interview with WSAV.

A missing persons poster for Quinton Simon (FBI)

Ms MsCarta said that the family “didn’t want that (her help)” and she had been due to look after both Quinon and his three-year-old brother that day but was told not to come at 5.30am, about half an hour before he was last seen.

He was wearing a light blue Sesame Street shirt and black pants.

Quinton’s mother gives ambiguous statements in televised interview

Quinton’s mother, Leilani Simon, broke her silence when she spoke to local news station WTOC on 24 October.

“I’m here. I’ve been here every day since this. I’m not running and I’m not hiding,” she told WTOC. “And if something does come up that I am at fault, I will take myself to that police station.”

Ever since Quinton went missing, she says she’s been the target of constant harassment.

“It makes it hard to even process what’s going around us. We get to the point where we have to barricade our own home in order to even feel safe in our backyard because we can’t even process what is happening everywhere else, or even have the time to do so,” she continued in her interview with WTOC.

“I can’t even walk out and appreciate my own son’s memorial or put down gifts that I got for him. I can’t even go out there and do that without harassment and negligence and everything. It’s just devastating to see that this is how the outside world reacts.”

Ms Simon said she hoped her son was found happy and healthy, despite local police’s announcement on 13 October that Quinton is believed to be dead.

Three people were arrested while protesting outside the home where Quinton disappeared. Chatham County police went to the home in Savannah on Friday night after receiving complaints about protesters, who then left the scene, WJCL reported.

But later in the night, three protesters returned and blocked the driveway, preventing someone from being able to leave. The protesters - William Garrett, Wanda Boatright and John Boatwright - were subsequently charged with disorderly conduct after ignoring officers’ orders to move.

Police did not specify whether Quinton’s mother or his grandmother were home at the time.

Quinton Simon, aged 20 months, has been missing for four weeks. He is believed to be dead, authorities said (Screenshot / WJCL / Facebook / Billie Jo Howell)

Leilani Simon ‘downed tequila shots’ as FBI wrapped up first day of search in landfill

Ms Simon and her mother were seen drinking in a town near where the toddler went missing last month.

As the FBI continues searching for Quinton’s body in a landfill in Savannah, Georgia, local news station WSAV first reported that Ms Simon, now the prime suspect in the investigation, and her mother Billie Jo Howell were seen drinking at Sting Ray’s, a bar in the neighbouring Tybee Island.

When contacted by The Independent, a staff member said: “They were here, they drank, they left.”

A server also told the New York Post that Ms Simon and Ms Howell “downed tequila shots” and stayed at the bar for hours on 18 October, despite other customers’ voicing that they were upset the pair were drinking in public in the middle of an investigation into Quinton’s likely death.

“They were having a great time, like they didn’t have a care in the world,” a server told the Post. “They were drinking Patron shots in the deck area, being loud and laughing. It’s almost like they were trying to draw attention to themselves.”

The FBI released this photo of crews collecting rakes to dig through a landfill in their search for Quinton Simon (FBI)

Leilani ‘hasn’t always done the right thing,’ mother says

Speaking to reporters days merely after his disappearance, Quinton’s grandparents said the boy’s mother “hasn’t always done the right thing,” and expressed concern for the 20-month-old.

“Sometimes she does really great, sometimes she doesn’t,” Ms Howell told ABC30. “I don’t know what to think right now...I don’t know if I can trust her or I don’t. I just know I’m hurting and I want this baby home. He’s my baby.”

Ms Howell reportedly lived at the same address as Quinton and Ms Simon along with her husband Thomas Howell, and her daughter’s boyfriend, WJCL reported.

The news outlet obtained court documents alleging an eviction despite, with Ms Howell seeking to remove her daughter and her boyfriend from the property over alleged “damage” and a lack of “peace”. This remains unconfirmed, however.

The same documents also stated that Quinton’s grandparents have custody of the child, according to WJCL.

Quinton’s mother has not spoken to reporters.

Ms McCarta, who told WSAV she babysits the two children, said in an interview on 11 October that she had previously reported the family to Georgia’s department of families and children services (DFCS) with concerns, but this was unconfirmed.

The department told The Independent: “DHS/DFCS is bound by both state and federal law to protect the privacy of the people we serve. As such, we are unable to comment on the specifics of any reported abuse or neglect cases nor confirm or deny the existence of any abuse or neglect records.”

It continued: “We take seriously every report that might be made to the Department and work with law enforcement when appropriate to ensure the safety of Georgia’s children.”

At least one Facebook post from Ms Howell, which was seen by Fox News, meanwhile referred to the coming “calm” after a “storm”, local reports said. It remains unclear what the message behind the reshared post was, in light of an expected update from police on the evidence found.

Chatham County Sheriff Jeff Hadley has said that Ms Simon was believed to be in Chatham County and that she was not a flight risk.

He added that authorities wouldn’t be releasing more information about the evidence they had encountered, noting they had “one shot” at arresting Ms Simon.

A timeline of developments

Early into the search for Quinton, Chatham County police said they did not believe foul play was involved in his disappearance and that they hoped to find him alive, WJCL reported.

In the days after Quinton was reported missing, search warrants were carried out on a nearby pond, a backyard swimming pool and the house itself in the 500 block of Buckhalter Road in Savannah, police said.

Those areas were re-canvassed on 10 October when the pool in the backyard of the home was drained.

While it was unclear if any evidence was found or removed from it, police announced on 11 October the discovery of evidence “that we believe will help move this case forward”. That evidence went under analysis, police said.

On 18 October, police announced that Quinton is believed to have been buried in a landfill.

In a statement that was shared on Facebook, police said. “The CCPD and the FBI have notified Quinton Simon’s family that we believe he is deceased”.

His mother, Ms Simon, has been named a prime suspect.

Officials held the first press conference on the case on 13 October, where they reiterated the belief that Quinton is deceased.

“To the Chatham County community, our heart breaks along with yours trying to comprehend what we believe happened here. The FBI along with our law enforcement agencies have followed every lead, every tip and every piece of evidence to get to this point and we will continue to do so,” FBI Supervisor Senior Resident Agent Will Clarke said.

Officials did not disclose the nature of evidence suggesting Quinton is dead, or why Ms Simon is the main suspect.

The FBI is supporting the Chatham County Police Department in the investigation, with law enforcement spending 18 to 20 hours a day looking for the 20-month-old child, CNN reported.

Chatham County police said in an earlier statement that it had executed search warrants and continued to interview “those who might have information that could be helpful in the investigation” with the help of the FBI.

Local Georgia police and the FBI think the 20-month-old was placed in a dumpster and taken to a landfill in the area, prompting a search that is now underway.

Mr Hadley said at a press briefing that “we know that this is going to be a physically, mentally and emotionally gruelling task for our investigators and team”.

“We want justice for Quinton just like everyone else,” he added.

FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Will Clarke said during the press conference that “we, along with our law enforcement partners, go into this process with heavy hearts”.

“We did not want to end up at this point. But the evidence has taken us here,” he added.

Mr Clarke said that “this will not be quick” and “it will not be easy, and the outcome is uncertain”.

“As the chief said, we want justice for Quinton, and we want to find him a proper resting place,” he said.

“We’ve been following the evidence, where it has taken us and the evidence has taken us to this landfill,” Mr Clarke added.

Chief Hadley said he was unable to share what evidence led the authorities to the landfill.

“I can’t thank the FBI enough for all that they have done,” the chief said. “They have been tremendous and phenomenal.”

“We’re not ready to charge anyone yet, we still have work to do,” he added. “We still have an investigation to do and we are not going to do anything preemptively that would harm future prosecution.”

The police chief was asked by the press how long he expects the landfill search to take.

“It’s kind of up to what happens, but as Agent Clarke said, this is not going to be quick,” he replied. “This is not going to happen within a day or so. We are here for the long haul.”

The police chief was asked about the whereabouts of Quinton’s mother, Lelani Simon, who has been identified as the “prime suspect” but hasn’t been arrested or charged. He said she was not a flight risk but did not elaborate in his response

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.