Technology helping investigators build case against suspect in toddler's abduction, death

PITTSBURGH — Many questions remain in the abduction and death of a Penn Hills toddler, but Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said Tuesday that technology is helping investigators build their case against the suspect.

Zappala said technologies such as license plate readers and cellphone tracking helped authorities find the body of Nalani Johnson, who was still strapped in a car seat, in a park in Indiana County Sept. 3. The technology has also played a significant role as suspect Sharena Nancy is investigated.

Investigators said Nancy abducted Nalani Aug. 31 after getting into an argument with the toddler’s father, with whom she was in the beginnings of a romantic relationship. She was stopped two hours later, but Nalani and the car sear were not in the car.

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License plate readers picked up Nancy’s car at two locations on Route 22, near Monroeville, according to Zappala. In addition, a surveillance camera captured her at a convenience store in Murrysville.

The FBI tracked Nancy’s cellphone to towers near Blairsville, where Nalani’s body was found, Zappala said.

While the medical examiner has not determined the cause of Nalani's death, Zappala and Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty's offices said it is expected to be ruled a homicide.

>>RELATED: Timeline of abduction, search and discovery of Nalani Johnson

Zappala said last week the evidence reveals the woman who abducted Nalani was the only person involved in the toddler's death. He also suggested Nalani died before she was left in a wooded area of the park.

No one has been charged with Nalani’s death, but Nancy is charged with kidnapping of a minor, custodial interference and concealment of the whereabouts of a child.

Channel 11's Rick Earle asked Zappala Tuesday whether he could see his office potentially pushing for the death penalty in the case. Zappala said the following:

“I don't know enough about her. I think that the last time we talked, there is nothing rational about what happened here and, you know, the child … the child was, what, 10 days away from her second birthday. How do you hurt a child? I don't get that. So, there's a lot of questions that need to be answered first.”