PITTSBURGH — "I'm waking up and it's like a piece of me is really missing."
The mother of Nalani Johnson shared her pain with Channel 11, speaking publicly for the first time.
Police said Nalani was kidnapped on August 31, triggering an AMBER Alert. Three days later, her body was found in an Indiana County park.
Homicide charges were filed in the case last week.
Gladys Duarte has since moved out of Pittsburgh because of her daughter's tragic death, but she smiled when talking about Nalani -- her first and only child.
"She was such a happy baby," Duarte said. "She was literally like this ball of energy. I just love her so much and I just want her to know that."
Duarte told Channel some days she forgets about the tragedy, thinking her daughter is still there.
"I'll look at the time and it's like, 'Oh my God it's 5 o'clock. I have to go pick Nalani up from daycare.' And then... I check my surroundings and I'm like OK no," she said.
Duarte said she last saw Nalani on Aug. 30 when her father picked her up. The next day, the search for Nalani began.
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Police said Sharena Nancy drove off with Nalani after getting into an argument with Nalani's father that day. Investigators said the two were romantically involved.
"I didn't know this woman at all," said Duarte. "I didn't even know she was in his life."
Nancy was spotted in Penn Hills hours after Nalani was last seen, but Duarte's daughter was nowhere to be found. After days of searching, investigators found Nalani in a wooded area in Pine Ridge Park.
There was a split-second of hope for Duarte, but those emotions quickly turned to grief. Duarte said she lost it when detectives told her they found Nalani lifeless, still strapped in a car seat.
On Oct. 25, Nancy was charged with homicide. She is awaiting trial, and Duarte had a message for her.
"I try to understand where you come from every single day because I try to come to peace with why you did what you did," said Duarte. "You took her away from her first everything, like she wasn't even two yet. You didn't even let her celebrate her second birthday."
See more from this emotional interview -- in the video above!
Cox Media Group