The mystery behind the disappearance of toddler Quinton Simon, whose body is believed to be in a landfill in Savannah, Georgia, entered a new phase as his mother was charged with his murder.
Leilani Simon, 22, was charged with the missing boy’s murder on 21 November.
Chatham County police and the FBI revealed on 18 October that investigators believe 20-month-old Quinton was placed in a dumpster and taken to a landfill in the area, prompting a narrowing of the search. His mother had already been named the “prime suspect”.
After the FBI wrapped up the first day of searching the landfill, Ms Simon was seen drinking tequila at a bar in the neighbouring Tybee Island with his mother. Local news station WSAV reported that the pair got “flirtatious” with staff.
On 24 October, Ms Simon made her first media appearance, saying she’s “not hiding” and hoped her son was found “happy and alive”.
Lastmonth, three weeks into the search for Quinton, the Chatham County Police Department issued a statement reiterating its commitment to finding the toddler’s remains.
The department said that the process wouldn’t be quick, but the investigative case team is working diligently “to put together every piece of evidence to determine the facts in this case. “
Here is a timeline of developments in the investigation:
October 5 - Quinton is reported missing
The toddler went missing on 5 October from his home in Savannah, a coastal city on the border between Georgia and South Carolina, in Chatham County.
Quinton 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 services, 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.
Ms McCarta 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.
October 10 - Quinton’s grandmother says her daughter ‘hasn’t always done the right thing’
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,” Billie Jo 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 dispute, 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.
11 October - Quinton’s babysitter speaks out
Diana 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.”
The babysitter said she was surprised to receive a message on Wednesday morning last week that she would not be needed to look after Quinton and his sibling.
“I got a text this morning saying they would not be here, would not be babysitting them at 5.29 [a.m.],” said Ms McCarta, who expressed surprise at the seemingly last-minute decision.
She continued: “Which was kind of odd because I have them even when she (their mother) doesn’t work”.
“And then I get a text at 9am saying have I seen Quinton,” said Ms McCarta of her exchange with Quinton’s mother. “I immediately go to their house. I try to help them look, they didn’t want that. So, I’ve been just waiting around like everyone else.”
12 October - Police confirm Quinton is believed dead, mother named as prime suspect
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.
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.
“We know that thousands of people around the world will be heartbroken by this news, and we share your sorrow,” authorities said on Twitter.
Officials held the first press conference on the case on 13 October, where they reiterated their 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.
October 18 - Police believe Quinton may be buried in a landfill
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.
Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley said at a press briefing on 18 October that “we know that this is going to be a physically, mentally and emotionally gruelling task for our investigators and team”.
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.
October 19 - Reports emerge that Quinton’s grandmother and mother were seen drinking at a bar
Meanwhile, Ms Simon and her mother were seen drinking in a town near where the toddler went missing three weeks ago.
As the FBI searched for Quinton’s body in a landfill in Savannah, Georgia, local news station WSAV first reported that Ms Simon, by 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.”
The @WSAV Investigative Unit has learned as federal agents were ending their first day of searching for #QuintonSimon in a dump, his mom and grandmother were taking shots and drinking at a popular Tybee Island beach bar. pic.twitter.com/iQ1nXxFSGO
— Brett Buffington (@BrettWSAV) October 19, 2022
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.”
October 21 - Three people are arrested for protesting outside Quinton’s home
Over the weekend, 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
The Chatham County Police Department also wrote in a statement on Friday: “The Quinton Simon investigative case team will spend Saturday and Sunday conducting numerous interviews, and will continue to analyze evidence they have already gathered in this case.”
October 24 - Leilani Simon breaks silence and says she hopes Quinton is found ‘happy and alive’
Quinton’s mother, Leilani Simon, broke her silence on Monday when she spoke to local news station WTOC.
“I’m here. I’ve been here every day since this. I’m not running and I’m not hiding,” Leilani Simon told WTOC. “And if something does come up that I am at fault, I will take myself to that police station.”
Ever since Simon 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 hopes her son is found happy and healthy, despite local police’s announcement on 12 October that Quinton is believed to be dead.
October 26 - Local police reiterate commitment to finding Quinton’s body
Three weeks into the search for Quinton, the Chatham County Police Department issued a statement reiterating its commitment to finding the toddler’s remains.
“We are committed to giving Quinton the professional, detailed, and thorough investigation that he deserves. Thanks to the expertise of the FBI -- who was on the ground with us within three hours of Quinton being reported missing -- we have had the advantage of using every investigative and technological tool available,” the statement read.
The department said no expense had been spared and no work was deemed too much or too difficult and reminded the public that they did not expect the search to be quick. The search has involved more than 100 law enforcement and civilian personnel, according to the statement.
The investigative case team, the statement added, is working diligently to put together every piece of evidence “to determine the facts in this case.”
November 21 – Quinton’s mother charged with murder
Police in Georgia’s Chatham County said that Ms Simon, 22, had been charged over her son’s disappearance and alleged murder.
“The Chatham County Police Department has arrested 22-year-old Leilani Simon and charged her with murder in connection with the disappearance and death of her son, 20-month-old Quinton Simon,” the force said in a tweet.
“Leilani Simon was taken into custody a short time ago, and is being transported to the Chatham County Detention Center where she will be held while she awaits a bond hearing.”
It added: “We do not anticipate any other arrests in connection with this case.”