As family and friends prepare to pay their respects to Nichelle McKnight at her funeral with military honors today, they hope that her 4-year-old son Zaden will be found alive.
But court documents first obtained by the Dayton Daily News indicate the boy may have suffered a similar fate as his 25-year-old mother, who police said was murdered late last month.
Police found blood and the shoes McKnight was wearing when she was reported missing in the home’s basement, along with her driver’s license, bank cards, and the Social Security cards for both McKnight and Zaden, according to the affidavit.
The home on Birchwood is the residence of Tonisha Harris, 29, who was indicted Tuesday in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court on charges related to McKnight’s disappearance. The charges include six counts of receiving stolen property and one count each of theft by deception and misuse of a credit card, all fifth-degree felonies.
Harris pleaded not guilty to the charges and even had her bond lowered from $250,000 to $10,000, despite the chance she may face other charges related to McKnight’s case. Judge Dennis Langer ruled that DNA can be collected from Harris and that, if she does make bond, she must be placed on electronic monitoring.
Despite the evidence collected, Harris is not facing charges related to McKnight’s death. Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Greg Flannagan said the McKnight homicide is an open investigation, and authorities are still processing what was found in her home. That includes seeing if Harris’ blood matches the evidence that was found in her basement.
“As far as the homicide goes, certainly we have to see where that investigation goes,” Flannagan said.
McKnight reportedly discovered the thefts days before she disappeared on March 25. Her body was found April 11 near the banks of the Stillwater River.
According to a Dayton police incident report, Harris allegedly stole money from McKnight’s Chase bank account, and made purchases at area Walmarts using McKnight’s credit card. In total she allegedly stole nearly $3,000. The thefts were reportedly committed at the instruction of McKnight’s boyfriend, 26-year-old Antwan Anderson, whom police said was also in a relationship with Harris.
McKnight, an Air Force reservist, is having all her funeral expenses paid for by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars. Air Force officials said McKnight was assigned to the 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from March 21, 2008 until March 16 this year, less than two weeks before she disappeared. McKnight received the Air Force commendation medal and was never deployed.
Funeral services for McKnight are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Greater Love Christian Church, 2345 Lakeview Ave.
“The men and women of the 445th Airlift Wing are deeply saddened by the passing of Senior Airman Nichelle McKnight, a valuable member and contributor to the 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron’s mission,” said Col. Jeffrey J. McGalliard, 445th Airlift Wing commander. “Our thoughts and prayers are extended to her family and friends.”
Robert Critell, past VFW District 3 commander, said members have volunteered to greet people and be pall bearers, present flags, have a bugler and provide a firing squad salute, if necessary. “We’re going to make sure that that veteran get what she deserves,” Critell said. “From my understanding, (the family) were just completely overwhelmed… . If they find her child is deceased, we’re prepared to take care of that, too.”
McKnight disappeared March 25, shortly after she reportedly confronted Anderson about the thefts. He was Dayton police’s No. 1 suspect in the disappearance and McKnight and her son. However, Anderson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a police shootout after a pursuit with Dayton officers on April 7.
Harris was arrested that same night after police executed several search warrants throughout the region as part of their investigation in the McKnight case. Copies of the search warrants indicating what officers found inside the Birchwood Avenue home have been sealed.
Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl declined an interview request, but said that the affidavit “speaks for itself.”
McKnight wasn’t reported missing until March 29, and preliminary autopsy results from the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office indicate she likely died March 27 of two gunshot wounds to the head. Her death has been ruled a homicide. Her son is also presumed dead, but his body has not been located. Police continue to search for him, and have asked agencies south along the Stillwater River to be on the lookout for his remains.
In a development Thursday night, an official with Ohio Task Force 1 said the Dayton Police Department has contacted the organization about helping in the search for Zaden.
Evan Schuman, a representative of the organization, said that while the task force has not committed any of its resources, he has put the department in touch with a contact that can get the department dogs that are used to detect human remains. That contact is associated with the task force, Schuman said, and has access to several of the specialized canines.
Schuman shared the new information in an interview about the task force’s return to the Miami Valley from helping in the search for victims from the recent mudslides in Washington state.
Police officials said they believe Harris has information on McKnight’s disappearance, but has not cooperated with investigators. Her criminal record reveals Harris was repeatedly given intervention in lieu of conviction (ILC) and probation. She received ILC for improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and receiving stolen property in a 2006 case and for theft in 2007.
Harris received intervention for another 2007 forgery count, which she unsuccessfully tried to get sealed. She also was placed on community control in a 2010 forgery case. Harris declined an interview request from the Dayton Daily News.
Daquann Norman, a neighbor of Harris’ who said he and his girlfriend are moving because of concerns about murders being committed down the street, said: “It’s shocking that they can’t find that little boy and they found her dead. We don’t really want to think of bad results for the little boy. Hopefully he’s out there safe and somebody will bring him home to his family.”
Anyone with information on the case can call police using their anonymous tip line at (937) 222-7867.