As investigators on Thursday attempted to retrace the final steps of a 16-year-old girl whose body was found a week earlier on Interstate 10 in New Orleans East, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison announced that a homicide detective has been added to the case.
The death of McDonogh 35 High School student Kaylan Ward, however, has not been classified as a homicide, and Harrison said it was “too early to tell” whether foul play was involved in the case.
Homicide Detective Tim Bender, who was added to the case Thursday, is now working a joint probe with the NOPD’s Traffic Division.
Investigators believe Ward was killed by a car or cars in the eastbound lanes of the interstate, near the Bullard Avenue exit. Pieces of her body were recovered from several places along the roadway. Coroner Jeffrey Rouse said he had made a preliminary determination of the cause of death as “multiple blunt traumatic injuries.”
Police are pulling telephone records and interviewing friends to figure out how the teenager, who had last been spotted walking in Central City near Earhart Boulevard and Magnolia Street about midnight, wound up miles away in New Orleans East. Police found Ward’s body on the interstate about 6:30 a.m.
Ward’s mother, Kenisha Martin-Nelson, expressed relief Thursday that a homicide detective has been put on the case. She has been adamant that her daughter’s death should be investigated as a homicide.
On Wednesday, the dismembered body of another young woman, 19-year-old Jasilas Wright, was found on Interstate 10 in Metairie. Seizing on the striking similarities between the two cases, social media ran rife with speculation that they were somehow connected.
“It is not unreasonable” for the public to be concerned about the two cases, Harrison said. NOPD detectives are working with State Police and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office to determine any possible connection, he said. But he urged “extreme caution” in linking them.
“As of right now, we have no information that definitely connects these two incidents,” Harrison said. “Let’s not spread speculation. Let us do our jobs.”
Martin-Nelson attended a Thursday night candlelight vigil for Wright, but she said she does not believe the two cases are connected.
That sentiment was echoed by Carol Bernard, Wright’s grandmother.
“Right now, we’re asking anyone with any information on the death of Kaylan Ward to come forward,” Harrison said. “Call NOPD. You can call Crimestoppers. Help us bring closure to this family.”
Detective Bender can be reached at (504) 658-5300, and Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.