CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - The Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office held a press conference Thursday morning shedding more light into the death of 11-month-old Harlee Lewis.
The baby girl died Tuesday, her body found in a garbage bag inside a diaper box, hidden in the woods near her mother's home. Investigators say the mother, 19-year-old Breanna Lewis, originally lied and said her daughter was kidnapped by a stranger who assaulted her as she was getting her mail.
Soon after Harlee's body was found - two hours after her mother's original 911 call - Breanna Lewis was charged with giving false information to law enforcement, destruction, desecration or removal of human remains, and DNA/destroying, altering, concealing, or tampering with physical evidence or biological material.
Sheriff Jay Brooks said when officials first arrived at the scene, Breanna Lewis was very distraught. He said the mother spent about an hour and a half in an ambulance before investigators could really talk to her.
"At first, her story was very believable," Books said at the press conference Thursday. But, he added, "Stranger abduction of a child is extremely rare. We started wondering 'what if?'"
Brooks said the injuries Lewis had - a black eye and bruises she said were from the assault and abduction - were actually from a recent car crash. He said when crews responded to that crash, Lewis was frantically looking for Harlee. As rescuers searched the vehicle and surrounding area, they learned the baby was safe at home with a babysitter.
Given the new information about those injuries, deputies then got a search warrant for the home and began looking for any evidence of what happened to Harlee. Even as searched the home, other deputies were frantically searching the area and talking to neighbors, looking for the man Lewis said took the infant.
After searching the home, deputies began searching the property, making circles around the home and working their way further out. After about an hour of searching rough terrain about 1,000 yards behind the home, deputies noticed a diaper box in the woods.
Sheriff Brooks said the box hadn't been rained on and didn't appear weathered. Brooks choked up as he described the deputies finding Harlee's body inside the box, saying those deputies need counseling.
"How do you put a dead child inside a trash bag and throw her away?" the sheriff asked.
Brooks said one of the deputies took a photo of the box, then came and showed it to Lewis. That's when she admitted the story about the abduction was a lie.
Brooks said Lewis could "remember the elaborate story" about the abduction, but couldn't remember disposing of Harlee's body or what happened to her except one thing - Breanna told investigators that Harlee had "pushed her to the brink."
However, Brooks said, there is a "real possibility" that Harlee died of natural causes. He said there was nothing "readily visible" on the child that could indicate a cause of death.
An autopsy was performed on the baby, but a cause of death still hasn't been determined. The sheriff said toxicology reports are still pending and could take months to complete.
New charges could be coming once a cause of death is determined, Brooks said.
"We've got to find out exactly what happened and charge her appropriately," he said.
The sheriff also went into some detail about Breanna's recent lifestyle, and tragedies she's been through recently. Brooks said Harlee's father killed himself in front of the Breanna, and that the father's family had been trying to get custody of the baby.
When asked about rumors that Breanna was a methamphetamine user Brooks said he couldn't confirm that but that she "fits the profile." He then added that no drugs were found in the home.
Sheriff Brooks says he has reason to believe Breanna left the infant alone at the house for long periods of time.
Brooks said he believes Lewis could be a flight risk if she posts bail, which is $71,000. He said he hopes any possible new charges will come before that happens. For now, she is being held in isolation on suicide watch.
Lewis' former girlfriend, Maci Hodges, spoke with WBTV Thursday and said she was questioned by local police shortly after Harlee was initially reported as abducted. She said because of her past with Lewis, she immediately knew it wasn't true.
"I want justice to be served because that baby did not deserve to die that way," said Hodges. "There are so many people that don't get to have kids that could have had her. I could have had her and it hurts."
"How could you put a baby in a trash bag and a diaper box and not have no remorse," she asked. "Not feel bad. Not speak up and say something."
Meanwhile, a vigil is being planned for Harlee on Wednesday, June 6, at 6 p.m. at the courthouse on Main Street in Chesterfield.