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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Nalani Johnson Kidnap-Murder Case

     Twenty-one-year old Paul D. Johnson resided in the Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania borough of Delmont located along Route 22 on the eastern edge of suburban Pittsburgh. He was the father of a 23-month-old girl named Nalani. During the summer of 2019, he began an intermittent romantic relationship with 25-year-old Sharena Islam Nancy, a woman he had met through social media.

     On Saturday, August 31, 2019, Paul Johnson and his daughter were in Sharena Nancy's black, 2017 Toyota Yaris. Nalani was in the back of the car strapped into a car seat. At five o'clock that Saturday, an argument broke out between Johnson and Nancy. At the intersection of Bryant Street and Clay Drive in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills, Mr. Johnson told Sharena Nancy to stop the car so he and his daughter could get out.

    When Mr. Johnson got out of the Toyota, and was about to remove his daughter from the car, Nancy drove off with the child. In a state of panic, Mr. Johnson called Nancy's cellphone several times without getting a response. He then called 911 and reported that his daughter had been kidnapped by Sharena Nancy in a black Toyota Yaris with Lyft and Uber stickers on the front passenger side of the vehicle.

     The authorities, based upon Mr. Johnson's kidnapping report, put out a regional Amber Alert requesting information regarding the whereabouts of the Toyota driven by Sharena Nancy with Nalani Johnson in the back seat.

     The Amber Alert quickly brought responses from witnessed who had spotted Nancy's car. She was also captured on a surveillance camera at a Sheetz service plaza in Murrysville, a nearby Allegheny County borough. From the service plaza, Nancy, according to witnesses, traveled east on Route 22. About an hour after the abduction, a witness saw Nancy's car in the Indiana County town of Blairsville.

     Just before 7:30 that Saturday evening, back in Allegheny County, an officer with the suburban Penn Hills Police Department spotted the black Toyota Yaris and pulled it over. Sharena Nancy was behind the wheel, but Nalani Johnson and her car seat were not in the vehicle. The officer took Nancy into custody on suspicion of kidnapping.

     Questioned by Allegheny County detectives and FBI agents, Sharena Nancy had quite a story, one that accused Nalani Johnson's father of enlisting her help in selling his daughter to an unidentified woman for $10,000.

     According to the kidnapping suspect, Paul Johnson instructed her that Saturday to drive her car, with Nalani in it, eastward toward a service station on Route 22 in Monroeville, a town located in Westmoreland County. Nancy claimed that Johnson assured her that along the way, about 20 minutes into the trip, a woman standing along the side of the highway would flag her over.

     In telling this outlandish tale, Sharena Nancy said that she came upon a woman along Route 22 standing near a silver colored SUV with out of state plates. The woman waived her to a stop. It was at that time Nancy handed over Nalani along with the child's car seat.

     After passing off Nalani as instructed by her father, Nancy said she continued driving east to Indiana County's Blairsville where she turned around and headed back to Penn Hills where she was stopped by the police officer and taken into custody.

     Officers booked Sharena Nancy into the Allegheny County jail on charges of kidnapping a minor, interference with the custody of a child, and concealing the whereabouts of a child. The magistrate denied her bail.

     On September 3, 2019, law enforcement authorities in Indiana County announced that Nalani Johnson's body had been found by a person or persons they did not identify. The corpse was discovered in Pine Ridge Park near Blairsville, about 37 miles east of Penn Hills where she had been abducted. The body was not far from the Chestnut Ridge Golf Course. Witnesses had reported seeing Sharena Nancy's black Toyota near the course on Saturday, August 31.

     A private forensic pathology group, under the auspices of the Indiana County Coroner's Office, would perform the autopsy and determine Nalani Johnson's manner and cause of death.

     On September 5, 2019, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala told reporters that "there is no evidence that anyone other than Sharena Nancy was responsible for the child's being taken from Penn Hills and ultimately being placed in that field or in the woods in Indiana County." The prosecutor indicated that the autopsy results may not be available for five to six week.

      Regarding the condition of the girl's body, District Attorney Zappala said the child had been fully clothed and had not died from the elements. Because the body showed no signs of physical trauma such as a blunt force blow to the head, a knife or gunshot wound, or a ligature mark from manual strangulation, investigators theorized that her cause of death was suffocation.

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