CALGARY — An aunt of a missing Calgary toddler says she’s desperate to know what happened to the little girl and her mother, who police believe may be victims of homicide.
Aliyah Sanderson, 22-months old, and her mother, Jasmine Lovett, have not been seen since April 16 and were reported missing a week later after they failed to show up for a family dinner.
“I really just want them found — that’s it. I want some closure,” said Josie Sanderson, whose brother Robbie Sanderson is Aliyah’s father.
Police have said he is not a suspect and has been co-operating with the investigation.
A man who was taken into custody was released Friday without charges, but police say he remains a primary suspect. His name has not been released.
But a man who identified himself as Robert Leeming told CTV News that he was the person who was arrested and questioned by police.
Leeming, 34, said he is the owner of the townhouse where Lovett and her daughter lived and that they were his tenants for the past seven months.
He called the situation stressful and said he is innocent.
“I hope she is all right,” he told Global Calgary. ”What do you do, right? Bizarre.”
Leeming said he last saw Lovett on the Thursday night prior to the Easter weekend and has no idea what happened to them.
He confirmed that he owns a Mercedez-Benz SUV that has been seized by police.
He said he has not been permitted to return to his home as police continue to search it.
Police have also been searching rural areas in the Rocky Mountain foothills west of the city.
Josie Sanderson said Lovett and her brother broke up several months ago, and that Lovett started a relationship with another man. She said she knows little about the new boyfriend and hasn’t heard from Lovett in months.
She called Lovett a good mother.
“She would never put her daughter in any danger willingly.”
Sanderson, who lives in St. Catharines, Ont., has never met Aliyah in person, but used to video chat with her niece and described her a happy and smart child. She sent the girl hand-me-down clothes from her daughter, who is now four.
Sanderson said she was up all night crying, looking at photos of her niece, after police announced that homicide detectives were investigating.
More than 50 officers, including some on horseback, and helicopters are searching around the hamlets of Bragg Creek and Priddis. Cellphone activity led them to that area, they said.
The RCMP, local search and rescue groups and provincial fish and wildlife officers are also helping.
Investigators said they are seeking information from anyone who saw a white man in his mid-30s driving a grey luxury SUV in the Bragg Creek or East Kananaskis wilderness area between April 16 and April 18.
They say the man might have been in the Fullerton Loop/Elbow Falls recreation area of Kananaskis between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. on April 18.
Police said he may have been alone or with either Lovett or Aliyah and that he might have had mulch in his vehicle.
They are urging property owners in the Bragg Creek area to report anything suspicious, especially if new mulch was dumped between April 16 and April 20.
Hikers and bikers are also asked to be on the lookout.
Investigators have gone through Lovett’s social media as well as health care, phone and banking records and have found no “footprints of life.” Police cannot confirm Lovett was the one who made an online purchase on April 18 from her account.
“I hope that nothing bad happened. I’m just keeping positive,” said Josie Sanderson.
“Nothing’s in stone yet — that’s what I’m trying to think here.”
— With files from CTV Calgary
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press