UPDATE: Mother Of Missing W.Va. Girl Out Of Federal Prison

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

UPDATED: 02/27/2013

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - The mother of a 3-year-old West Virginia girl who vanished in September 2011 is out of prison.

U.S. Bureau of Prison records showed Wednesday that Lena Lunsford was released from a Maryland facility after serving eight months for welfare fraud

It's unclear whether she's returning to West Virginia. Lawyers who have previously worked with Lunsford won't return phone calls or emails.

Lunsford was living with her mother before she went to prison. Her mother has since died, and Lunsford filed for divorce from husband Ralph.

No one has been charged in the disappearance of Aliayah (uh LEE uh) Lunsford.

Lunsford's other six children are in state care. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld a Lewis County judge's order terminating her parental rights.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


UPDATED: 4/12/2012

ELKINS, W.Va. (AP) - The mother of a 3-year-old girl who vanished more than six months ago will be sentenced for welfare fraud next month.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey entered an order Thursday scheduling the sentencing of Lena Lunsford for May 22 in Elkins.

Lunsford pleaded guilty in January to selling $114 worth of credit on her food stamp card for $50 cash. She had been indicted on multiple counts in October, accused of swapping for cash five times in two months.

Her daughter Aliayah disappeared from their Lewis County home on Sept. 24, 2011.

Last month, agent John Hambrick said the FBI has a theory about what happened but won't disclose details. Nor would he say whether he believes Aliayah is still alive or predict when an arrest might be made.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


UPDATED: 3/29/2012

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The FBI has a working theory about what happened to a 3-year-old Lewis County girl who vanished six months ago, and it doesn't involve a break-in.

FBI agent John Hambrick won't say what that theory is, or whether he believes Aliayah Lunsford is still alive.

But Hambrick said Thursday at a news conference in Weston that there's no evidence to support a break-in as a theory.

Aliayah disappeared from her Bendale home Sept. 24, 2011, and there has been no sign of her since.

Last week, Lena Lunsford's attorney said she believes there is no way her daughter wandered off.

Hambrick says even though police don't speak publicly about the case often, they're aggressively pursuing it every day.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


UPDATE: 3/29/2012

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The FBI is planning a public update on the
case of a 3-year-old Lewis County girl who vanished more than six
months ago.

The supervisory special agent in charge of the Clarksburg
office, John Hambrick, will lead a briefing Thursday in Weston with
state and local authorities.

Aliayah Lunsford disappeared from her Bendale home
Sept. 24, and there has been no sign of her since. Her mother,
Lena, has told police the child was in bed around 6:30 a.m. but
gone when she checked on her later.

Last week, Lena Lunsford's attorney said she believes there is
no way her daughter wandered off.

Authorities are treating Aliayah's disappearance as a crime, but
they've named no suspects, made no arrests and refused to say what
they think happened.

< hr/ >

UPDATE: 1/10/2012

ELKINS, W.Va. (AP) - A woman whose 3-year-old daughter has been missing for more than three months has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of welfare fraud.

Media outlets say 29-year-old Lena Lunsford appeared before federal Magistrate John Kaull in Elkins on Tuesday. She pleaded guilty to selling $114 worth of credit on her food stamp card for $50 cash.

Lunsford will be sentenced at a later date. She could get as much as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Lunsford's 3-year-old daughter Aliayah vanished from the family's Lewis County home on Sept 24. Investigators are treating her disappearance as a crime but have made no arrests and named no suspects.

Weeks after her daughter's disappearance, Lunsford was indicted. She was accused of selling her benefits five times in two months.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

_________________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/16/2011

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - A court official is recommending substance abuse treatment and home detention for the mother of a missing toddler while she awaits trial on welfare fraud.

Federal records show pretrial services officer Brian Kilgore wants the court to intervene in the case of 29-year-old Lena Lunsford, who was caught with synthetic drugs called bath salts.

Lunsford's 3-year-old daughter Aliayah vanished from her Lewis County home Sept. 24 and hasn't been found. Her mother has since been indicted on multiple counts of welfare fraud but is free on supervised release.

Kilgore's petition says Lunsford is unwilling to cooperate and is withholding information. It says a state trooper caught Lunsford and husband Ralph in possession of bath salts in a Clarksburg parking lot Nov. 1.

Neither of Lunsford's attorneys immediately commented Wednesday.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/14/2011

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Authorities have released two new posters to help locate a 3-year-old girl Lewis County girl missing since Sept. 24, and one shows a bruise on the left side of her face.

FBI special agent Jeff Killeen says investigators don't know what caused it or why Aliayah (uh-LEE'- uh) Lunsford is missing four teeth.

He says children can have marks and missing teeth for many reasons. But Killeen says the photo was taken shortly before Aliayah vanished from her Bendale home and is one of the last known images of her.

WBOY-TV says the posters are on the FBI's website and Facebook page.

Investigators are treating the disappearance as a crime but won't say what they believe happened to Aliayah.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

_____________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/11/2011

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The mother of a 3-year-old Lewis County girl missing for more than six weeks has given birth to twin girls.

Attorney Michael Woelfel says Lena Lunsford delivered late Thursday. He said Friday he believes the babies remain hospitalized.

Their sibling, Aliayah, has been missing since Sept. 24, when she vanished from the family home in Bendale.

Woelfel won't say which hospital is caring for the babies or whether state child-welfare authorities are expected to take them.

The Department of Health and Human Resources removed four other children between 10 months and 11 years old from Lunsford's care after Aliayah vanished.

Woelfel says Circuit Judge Thomas Keadle has issued a gag order prohibiting comment on the status of the older children, so he won't comment on the babies.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/10/2011

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The mother of a 3-year-old Lewis County girl missing for more than six weeks says she believes her daughter is still alive and urges the public to keep looking for her.

Lena Lunsford issued a statement to media outlets through a Huntington law firm late Wednesday. It's her first public comment since her daughter Aliayah vanished from their Bendale home in Lewis County on Sept. 24.

Investigators are treating the disappearance as a crime but have made no arrests and named no suspects.

In the three-paragraph statement, Lena Lunsford thanks the investigators who are working the case and said she continues to fully cooperate.

"I believe in my heart that Aliayah is alive. That belief is keeping me going through these horrible days," the statement says.

"Please keep Aliayah, my other children and our entire family in your prayers," it adds. "I believe the person or persons who are responsible for this nightmare will see justice soon."

Last week, the FBI announced it's offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Special Agent Jeff Killeen urged hunters, in particular, to be watchful as they travel through the woods.

Authorities have offered no clues about what they think may have happened to the child.

Lunsford, 29, told police her daughter was in bed at 6:30 a.m. the day she disappeared but was gone when Lunsford checked on her later. Aliayah is about 3 feet tall and 35 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing purple pajama bottoms and a pink sweat shirt.

At the time of the disappearance, Lena Lunsford was eight months pregnant with twins and had four other children, from 9 months to 11 years old. It's unclear whether she's since given birth. Her attorney, Michael Woelfel, declined to comment on that Thursday.

Lunsford has lost custody of the other children to state child-welfare authorities since Aliayah disappeared.

Lunsford was indicted last week on multiple counts of welfare fraud and pleaded not guilty this week. She's accused of swapping credits on her food stamp card for $50 cash five times in two months.

Her public defender in that case, Brian Kornbrath, has not responded to telephone and email messages.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/09/2011

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The great-aunt of a 3-year-old Lewis County girl missing for more than six weeks is urging people to attend a prayer meeting aimed at bringing Aliayah Lunsford home.

Vickie Bowen says the event is 2 p.m. Saturday at Our Way of Holiness Church in Buckhannon.

Aliayah vanished from the family home near Bendale Sept. 24. Investigators are treating the disappearance as a crime but have made no arrests and named no suspects.

Aliayah's parents, Ralph and Lena, aren't discussing the case, and neither are other immediate family members. Lena Lunsford pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges of welfare fraud.

Bowen says she believes in the power of prayer and believes that only God can lead searchers to Aliayah.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/08/2011

ELKINS, W.Va. (AP) - The mother of a 3-year-old Lewis County girl missing for more than six weeks has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of welfare fraud.

Twenty-nine-year-old Lena Lunsford waived her right to appear in U.S. District Court in Elkins on Tuesday. Her public defender entered the plea for her.

Lunsford's daughter Aliayah vanished from the family home near Bendale Sept. 24. Investigators are treating the disappearance as a crime but have made no arrests and named no suspects.

The mother was indicted last week on charges of swapping credits on her food stamp card for $50 cash five times in two months. She faces more than 10 years in prison if convicted.

U.S. Magistrate John Kaull has scheduled a Dec. 13 hearing on motions in the case.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/03/2011

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The great-aunt of a missing 3-year-old has issued a public plea for the girl's return.

Vickie Bowen released a statement through WDTV-TV, asking anyone with information about Aliayah Lunsford to call her. She offers to arrange for a pickup, no questions asked.

Bowen told The Associated Press on Thursday that she won't give up hope that Aliayah's alive. The girl vanished from her family's home near Weston on Sept. 24.

Authorities are treating the disappearance as a crime but have named no suspects.

Bowen says investigators have told the family very little.

She says the girl's mother, Lena Lunsford, has yet to deliver twins. Lena Lunsford was eight months pregnant when Aliayah disappeared. Four other children have been removed by child-welfare officials.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATE: 11/02/2011

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The mother of a 3-year-old Lewis County girl missing for nearly six weeks has been indicted on multiple welfare fraud counts.

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said Tuesday that 29-year-old Lena Lunsford of Weston faces six federal charges alleging she tried to swap the value of her food stamp card for cash.

The indictment says she exchanged varying amounts on her card for $50 cash five times - twice in September and three times in October.

Her daughter Aliayah Lunsford vanished Sept. 24. Investigators consider her disappearance a crime but have made no arrests and named no suspects.

The charges against the mother include conspiracy to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program and knowingly selling federal benefits.

Lena Lunsford's public defender, Brian Kornbrath, didn't immediately return messages Tuesday.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATED: 10/17/2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A Lewis County woman whose 3-year-old daughter has been missing for three weeks has been charged with selling federal food stamp benefits.

A criminal complaint filed Monday in federal court in Clarksburg says Lena Lunsford transferred a Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program card and personal identification number to someone else in exchange for $50 cash. The complaint says the other person, who wasn't named, intended to use the EBT card to buy $114.82 in food.

Lunsford was released on personal recognizance bond and ordered to appear at a Nov. 7 hearing in Elkins. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine upon conviction.

Lunsford's daughter, Aliayah Lunsford, has been missing since Sept. 24 from her Bendale home. The FBI considers the disappearance a crime.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

______________________________________________________

UPDATED: 10/03/2011 4:31pm

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The disappearance of a 3-year-old Lewis County girl is now considered a crime.

FBI Special Agent Jeff Killeen told media outlets Monday that investigators no longer believe Aliayah Lunsford just walked away from her Bendale home Sept 24.

Lena Lunsford told police her daughter was in bed that morning at 6:30, but there's been no sign of the child since.

Killeen says she's either been the victim of a homicide or abduction, and that authorities have identified a few people of interest.

More than 1,000 volunteers helped hunt for the girl last week, but as of Monday only professionals remained involved in the search.

Killeen says the target area is a 5-mile radius around the Lunsford home.

Aliayah's family was moved to an undisclosed location last week.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

_________________________________________________________

UPDATE

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The FBI says the family of a missing 3-year-old Lewis County girl has been moved to an undisclosed location while the search for the toddler continues.

They offered no new details on their investigation during a Thursday afternoon press briefing.

Aliayah Lunsford of Bendale vanished Saturday. She was last seen in purple pajama pants and a pink sweatshirt.

Authorities haven't declared her disappearance a crime. They're still treating the search as a rescue mission.

Special Agent Jeff Killeen tells media outlets that while abduction is among the possible scenarios, authorities have no suspects or evidence of foul play.

Police say the doors and windows of the family's home were secure, and there were no signs of forced entry.

It's now roped off with yellow crime scene tape.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

_________________________________________________________

UPDATE

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Authorities are continuing extensive grid searches as they try to find a missing 3-year-old Lewis County girl.

FBI Special Agent John Hambrick says investigators want to besure they've hit every nook and cranny as they hunt for Aliayah Lunsford of Bendale.

She vanished Saturday morning.

Sgt. Mike Posey of the sheriff's department is still calling it a rescue mission, and investigators are proceeding Thursday as if the girl is still alive.

Authorities have yet to declare Aliayah's disappearance a crime. Hambrick told media outlets only that it's a possibility.

Police say the doors and windows of the family's home were secure, and there were no signs of forced entry.

Volunteer coordinator Chris Strader says as many as 1,800 people a day have helped in the search.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
_________________________________________________________

WESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Authorities remain tightlipped about any details of their investigation as the search for a missing 3-year-old girl from Lewis County enters a fifth day.

Police and hundreds of volunteers have been looking for Aliayah Lunsford since she vanished from her Bendale home Saturday morning.

FBI Special Agent Jon Hambrick wouldn't say Wednesday what her family members are telling investigators.

He tells WDTV-TV that publicizing details of the investigation would be counterproductive.

Hambrick says no Amber Alert has been issued for the girl because the case doesn't meet the requirements of that program, such as providing a vehicle description or license plate number.

Aliayah is about 3 feet tall and 35 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen in purple pajama bottoms and a pink sweatshirt.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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