Roderick Watson Jr. was getting ready this week to leave Houston to pick up his 2-year-old daughter from Baton Rouge when he received a call that no father wants to get.
A family member called to see if he had already picked up A’Kyleana Louise Latham, who was going to spend the summer with him.
Watson, 25, who was still at his home in Houston, said no, he had not.
He then learned that Taylor Latham, 24, the child’s mother, had been found Monday evening shot to death on Louisiana Avenue. Police found her body inside a Ford Mustang parked next to the shotgun house where she and her daughter lived.
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But A’Kyleana, the toddler, was nowhere to be found, and she and her mother had not been seen since Saturday.
After the call, Watson spent the next 20 hours driving, crying and worrying as he made the drive from Houston to Baton Rouge. It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon when he was told A’Kyleana had been found unharmed in Baton Rouge.
Someone had dropped the toddler off in the 7500 block of Scenic Highway a little before 1 p.m. Tuesday. Detectives don’t know who had the toddler since she disappeared and they don’t know who dropped her off, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman.
Watson said police told him the child did not appear to have been harmed and had not witnessed anything that would cause her trauma.
Police had announced Monday night that Latham had been killed and A’Kyleana was missing. By Tuesday morning, the State Police had issued a missing child alert. That message was broadcast, printed and shared across the internet, something that A’Kyleana’s father credits for helping convince whoever took her, to drop her off safely.
“It was tragic, but it could have been double tragic,” Watson said.
Linda Sharpe, Taylor Latham’s grandmother, said they had a restless night as well.
“We spent the night here at the police station trying to find A’Kyleana,” Sharpe said. In the end, the results were happy, but there is still the tragedy of Taylor Latham’s death and the impact it will have on her daughter.
“It’s just devastating. Such a loss. A’Kyleana is going to be fine but she’s going to be missing her mom,” Sharpe said. “She was a kind and giving person.”
Police said Tuesday there was no new information on the investigation into Latham’s shooting death.
“We believe she was shot Saturday, but the coroner will have to confirm that,” McKneely said.
Her autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.
Barbara Williams-Perkins, a neighbor of Latham’s, said a grey Ford Mustang was often parked at Latham’s house, but over the weekend the car was parked in the yard along the side of the house, not on the street where it was normally parked.
On Monday, Williams-Perkins said she was told that it looked like a person was inside the Mustang.
“So, once they told me that, I called the landlord and he came and found (Taylor) in the car,” she said.
She said that Latham was a nice person “who kept to herself.”
Watson said there is no way to replace what Latham gave to her child.
“She was a lovely mother and she loved her daughter,” he said.
As A’Kyleana played with family members Tuesday afternoon outside the Louisiana State Police headquarters, Watson said there were just no words to describe how he was feeling.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “We’re just very thankful to have her back in our life.”
Smiling at his daughter, Watson said, “If this isn’t a story that makes you cherish your kids, I don’t know what will.”
Watson said he’ll be taking A’Kyleana back to Texas with him to raise her with a younger sister. So far, he said, she’s not aware that her mother is gone.
“That’s going to be the tough part,” he said.
But the toddler was all smiles Tuesday afternoon.
A little shy at first while being held by Payton Sharpe, 16, her aunt, A’Kyleana soon got accustomed to the attention and before long was doing a short dance for the cameras.
“I’m thankful for this situation, for whoever got her back,” Watson said.