Niagara Gazette

August 27, 2012

Two teens charged in child murder

By Rick Pfeiffer, rick.pfeiffer@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It was a grisly discovery.

In a trash bag, buried in a garbage can in the 500 block alley of Third Street, Falls cops found the body of a little girl who been reported missing just hours earlier on Monday morning.

By mid-afternoon Monday, detectives said they were ready to charge one 16-year-old boy with Isabella Sarah Tennant's slaying and another teen with helping dispose of the body.

"It's a terrible crime. It tears at your heart," said Capt. William Thomson, the veteran commander of the Criminal Investigation Division. "I have grandchildren that are the age of the victim."

Early Monday evening, police confirmed that they had charged John Freeman, 16, 422 Sixth St., with second-degree murder.

Investigators said they charged Tyler Best, 18, 193 Banard St., Buffalo, with tampering with evidence. Police said Best has been staying at Freeman's Sixth Street home for the past year.

The pair will be arraigned on the charges in Falls City Court later this morning.

The tragedy began unfolding about 6:20 a.m., when patrol officers were called to a home in the 400 block of Sixth Street for a report of a missing 5-year-old. The great grandmother of Isabella told police the child had disappeared overnight.

"The great grandmother said she went to bed at 10:30 p.m. and left the 5-year-old with (Freeman)," Thomson said. 

Members of Isabella's family told investigators that Freeman was a "close" and "trusted" family friend and that it was not uncommon for him to be in the great grandmother's home and around the little girl without supervision.

While detectives located Freeman and questioned him, Falls Police patrol officers began an intensive search for Tennant. 

In addition to flooding the South End with officers, police also brought in a search dog from the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. Three hours after the search began, investigators got a huge break in the case.

"At 10 a.m., a party showed up at (police headquarters) and said he had information about the missing girl," Thomson said. 

The person Thomson was referring to was Best and he then led police to the trash can in the alley behind 531 Third St.

"(Isabella's body) was in a trash can, under some other bags of trash," Thomson said. "Her body was inside a trash bag."

While Freeman had reportedly denied harming the child, detectives said Best confessed that he had helped his friend dispose of Isabella's body.

"It would have been very difficult to solve this without (Best's help)," Thomson said. "I imagine his conscience was bothering him."

Investigators said, based on statements made by Freeman and Best, they believe Isabella was killed in her great grandmother's home and that her body was then taken to the trash can. Detectives said they believed Freeman was the killer and Best helped to dispose of the body.

Thomson said there were some signs of trauma on Tennant's body, but "no evidence of sexual abuse."

In a statement released Monday night, detectives said, "At this time we believe Freeman killed Isabella with his bare hands and that Best was only involved after she was deceased."

An autopsy to determine the exact cause of Tennant's death is set for this morning.

In response to questions about why police did not issue an Amber Alert for Tennant, investigators said there are specific criteria that have to be met before an alert can be posted.

"You have to know there was an abduction and we didn't know if that was the case," Capt. Frank Tedesco said. "There was no sign that (Tennant) had been forcibly taken from the home. You also have to know there is a possibility of danger to the child."

Investigators said they had begun preparing a request for an Amber Alert, but dropped it when evidence showed Tennant had been killed.