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Missing Lancaster girl's body is found as mother's story unravels

March 20, 2009|Richard Winton and Ann M. Simmons
  • People gather near where the body of 18-month-old Emma Leigh Barker was found.
People gather near where the body of 18-month-old Emma Leigh Barker was… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

A chilling report that a Lancaster mother had been knocked unconscious by an attacker and her 18-month-old daughter abducted Wednesday afternoon triggered a frantic search by authorities for the missing child.

That search ended nearly a dozen hours later Thursday, though, when police discovered the toddler's body dumped by the side of a road in Sylmar, near the Golden State Freeway.

Now, in the wake of the discovery, investigators are saying there are problems with the mother's explanation.

Emma Leigh Barker's remains were found by investigators after they determined there "were several inconsistencies" with her mother's story, authorities said. The girl's body was found near Roxford Street and El Dorado Avenue, concealed by deep overgrown brush alongside a fence.

Authorities said it appeared the girl's 25-pound body had been dumped sometime over the last 24 hours and showed no visible signs of trauma.

The girl's mother, Stacy Barker, 20, initially told detectives that she was at a Lancaster park next to the Antelope Valley Freeway about 5 p.m. and had placed Emma in her car seat. The mother said she was "struck from behind by an unknown assailant" and knocked unconscious, sheriff's homicide Lt. Pat Nelson said.

Barker insisted to detectives she awoke about 10:30 p.m. several miles away at a Palmdale park-and-ride on Avenue S and her daughter was missing.

The mother's brother called authorities, and deputies were dispatched to the park-and-ride lot. Deputies found the mother semiconscious and partly undressed with visible bruises on her head, Nelson said.

The Sheriff's Department began searching for the girl at 11 p.m. Wednesday. Investigators put out a description of the girl as being 30 inches tall and wearing blue-jean shorts and a multicolored polka dot top.

Photos of Emma's smiling face filled Los Angeles television airwaves Thursday morning as investigators conducted a high-profile search for the missing toddler.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the mother changed her story by Thursday and was insisting that Emma's death was an accident.

Investigators and the county coroner's office must now determine how the girl died.

The mother is now helping investigators.

"She is not in custody. She is cooperating with the investigation," Nelson said.

Barker is "not considered a suspect" at this point, he said. "But that may change" as the investigation continues, he said.

When asked whether there were other persons of interest, Nelson said that investigators were "working additional leads," but "nobody specific" was under investigation.

Sheriff's investigators late Thursday night confirmed that the body was that of Emma.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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