Florida girl reported missing one week before her death in Shiprock

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The 31-year-old man and 14-year-old girl who police said died Monday in Shiprock of self-inflicted gunshot wounds disappeared from St. Augustine, Fla., on May 4, according to a missing person report from the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office in Florida.

The girl's mother told a deputy shortly after 10 p.m. on May 4 that she had not seen her daughter since leaving for work that day at 7:10 a.m., according to the heavily redacted report obtained by The Daily Times.

She said her daughter refused to go to school in the morning, and, when she returned from work at 1:30 p.m., the girl was gone, the report states.

The girl did not have an adverse mental condition, the report states, but her mother said she was "defiant."

The mother requested her daughter be listed as a runaway, though she might be with her uncle, Benjamin James Edwards, the report states. A semiautomatic pistol was also missing from the mother's home, the report states.

A spokesman for the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said on Tuesday that the girl had previously run away from home.

As reported by The Daily Times, Edwards and his niece died Monday of gunshot wounds to the mouth after a high-speed chase that ended in Shiprock. Edwards fired on deputies with the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office in Colorado at about 11:08 a.m. Monday after stealing gas from a station in Cortez, Colo., authorities said.

He fled Cortez in a black SUV on U.S. Highway 491 and shot at pursuing law enforcement officers before reaching a dead end on Bluff Road in Shiprock.

Detective Lt. Kyle Lincoln of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that Edwards and his niece were found dead by Navajo police officers at the end of the road.

No officers fired on the vehicle, Lincoln said, and no officers or civilians were injured during the chase.

Detectives from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office are still investigating the incident, but Lincoln confirmed Wednesday the firearm found in Edwards' vehicle matched a description of the firearm stolen from the girl's residence.

Edwards was arrested April 29 — only a few days before his niece went missing — for allegedly beating up a 17-year-old boy and vandalizing his vehicle, according to a police report from the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office obtained by The Daily Times Tuesday.

He claimed in an interview with police that the boy had tried to sell drugs to his daughter, but the boy said the incident was over an unpaid debt, according to the police report.

The boy's mother told The Daily Times that, out of respect for the families involved, she did not wish to comment on the incident. She said she and her family had been concerned about the 14-year-old girl's disappearance.

"We are quite devastated by her death," she said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to her mother and her family."

On May 5, police learned from a bail bondsman that Edwards, a self-employed handyman, had been released from jail four days earlier, according to the missing person report. Edwards listed his mother's address as his own, the report states, and his mother signed the bond agreement.

An internal email was sent to St. Johns County patrol and command staff on May 5 noting that a detective from the department's special victim's unit was assigned to the case and had seized a cellphone, the report states.

He believed the cellphone may contain information that could verify "sexual allegations," according to the report.

Kevin Kelshaw, a spokesman for the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday that the family believed Edwards had sexually abused the girl, but said he could not discuss an active investigation.

Patrolmen in Florida continued to search for the girl the night of May 5, the report states.

On May 7, a student at the girl's school, Gamble Rogers Middle School in St. Augustine, told a deputy that she had been at a party recently and saw Edwards there.

When reached by phone on Wednesday, a family member of the deceased said that Edwards' father was "in no condition to speak" about the incident.

When asked why an AMBER Alert was not issued for the missing girl, Kelshaw said the federal child abduction system is not automatically activated when a juvenile is reported as a runaway.

Though detectives suspected Edwards was with the girl, he said, they had no proof.

"She did not fit the qualifications of an AMBER Alert at the time," he said.

According to AMBER Alert guidelines developed by the U.S. Department of Justice, law enforcement officials must confirm the child was abducted and the child must be at risk of serious bodily injury or death before issuing an AMBER Alert.

The child must also be 17 years of age or younger and a sufficient description of the child, the suspect and the suspect's vehicle must be available, according to the department's guidelines.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.