Police in Harahan, Louisiana, found the body of Bella Fontenelle, 6, inside a chlorine drum that was left outside her mother Jennifer Zeledon's home. Bella's father, Michael Fontenelle, reported that both she and his girlfriend had gone missing.
He alerted police to the missing duo around 7.30am on Wednesday, Sheriff Joe Lopinto told WDSU.
Law enforcement believes that Mr Fontenelle's girlfriend, Bunnak "Hannah" Landon, 43, killed Bella at the home where they lived.
Jefferson Parish Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich determined the girl had been strangled and beaten, per a report from the New Orleans Advocate.
“I want to add that Bella’s body was intact and contrary to public speculation, there was no dismemberment of any kind,” he said, according to a WWL report. “Child deaths are always terrible, especially ones like this that should not have happened. Quite honestly, it’s personal for all of us.”
Ms Landon allegedly stuffed the girl's body into a 10-gallon chlorine drum and sealed it with a lid before loading it into a child's play wagon and dragging it more than a block to Ms Zeldon's house on Tuesday evening, according to authorities.
Law enforcement officials found the barrel while searching for Bella, discovering her body stuffed inside after they opened its lid.
Police say they recovered footage from surveillance video showing a woman dragging the bucket toward Ms Zeledon's house. The woman in the footage is wearing white boots, a red shirt and black pants.
At some point between Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon Ms Landon allegedly visited the Harahan Police Department. Officer there transported her to a nearby hospital for unknown reasons. Sheriff's deputies later arrested her at the hospital.
Ms Landon was placed under arrest and has been charged with first degree murder as well as obstruction of justice in the death of Bella Fontenelle. She is currently being held without bail.
It appears Ms Landon and Ms Zeledon had bad blood. A 2021 court document uncovered by WDSU named Ms Landon as a suspect in an incident that left Ms Zeledon with injuries on her face and hands. Ms Landon was cited for simple battery and later filed a restraining order against Ms Zeledon.
“This senseless and heinous act has forever destroyed my family,” Bianca Cano, Bella’s aunt, wrote her GoFundMe campaign for her sister, Ms Zeledon. “No words can describe the pain that is running through our bodies. It’s truly inhumane.”