A 19-year-old who sparked a manhunt when she claimed two masked intruders abducted a 5-year-old boy from a home in upstate New York has been charged with murder for allegedly strangling the boy.
The body of Kenneth White was found in a culvert, intentionally covered in snow, and his caregiver and cousin Tiffany VanAlstyne, 19, was charged with second-degree murder, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said Friday.
She pleaded not guilty at her arraignment, according to the Albany Times Union.
The 5-year-old, who is survived by a twin sister and a 4-year-old brother, was "thrown away like a piece of trash," Apple said.
The arrest comes after an Amber Alert was put into effect in the rural hamlet of Clarksville, 10 miles southwest of Albany when VanAlstyne, the 19-year-old daughter of the boy's legal guardians, said masked men entered a house in the neighboring town of Berne, pinned her to the floor and took the child at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday. She told police the men drove off in a pickup truck.
But as the authorities searched for the child and the masked abductors, detectives noticed that VanAlstyne's story "did not add up."
Apple would not discuss a motive but said said the VanAlstyne "gave a statement that lead to charges" and that authorities had "more than enough evidence to go forward with a murder charge. He said the youngster's body was found about 40 yards from the trailer he lived in and that his body was " taken over the road, thrown over the guardrail and covered in snow."
Kenneth's mother lives elsewhere in New York and his father lives in Massachusetts, Apple said. Neither parent is the person being questioned by detectives, he said.
News of the boy's death shocked residents in the rural hill towns west of Albany, described by Apple as a close-knit area.
"Everybody's devastated," said Lauren Tracey, a mother of two who lives nearby but doesn't know the family. "It was a little nerve-wracking. It's basically in my backyard."
Kenneth lived in a red-and-white striped mobile home on a rural road in Berne. The home, with Christmas decorations in the snow out front, sits along a two-lane rural road with a few homes nearby. Police vehicles were parked outside Friday morning, blocking the road.
"It's horrific, it's heart-wrenching," Apple told the Albany radio station. "It's certainly not the ending we were praying for."