A little more than a week before Shaniya Davis vanished, her mother told Carey Lockhart, the aunt who helped raise the 5-year-old, that she'd never see Shaniya again.
Those words echoed in Lockhart's head Monday, hours before searchers pulled a body police think was Shaniya's from a thicket of kudzu along the border of Lee and Harnett counties.
"If I'd only known ... ," Lockhart said Monday, her voice trailing off into sobs. She had helped rear the girl since infancy.
Though Bradley Lockhart and Antoinette Davis never married, they shared responsibility for Shaniya from the start. Davis' interaction with her daughter was typically limited to occasional weekend visits, Lockhart said. Their custody arrangement was never formalized by the courts.
But 21/2 weeks ago, Lockhart said, the informal parenting arrangement dissolved.
Shaniya went to visit her mother on Oct. 31. Lockhart said she packed Shaniya enough clothes for two days and expected to pick her up that Sunday.
But on Sunday morning, Lockhart said, Davis called and told her that she'd never see Shaniya again. Lockhart said Davis was angry that she had disciplined Shaniya for getting into a fight with her cousins.
"I was at a loss; I had no idea what to do," said Lockhart, who had no formal custody of Shaniya and could not demand her return.
"I knew when [my brother] came home, we were going to have to go to court and make some changes so we didn't have to endure this," Lockhart said.
That resolution never came. Bradley Lockhart had not returned from a job in Oregon when Shaniya disappeared.