Authorities investigating the disappearance of an Augusta teen said they're now treating the case as a homicide.
It's been almost two months since 16-year-old Latania Janell Carwell went missing. Police believe she was kidnapped from her home by her stepdad, 38-year-old Leon Tripp, back on April 17.
On Tuesday, the Richmond County sheriff made the announcement that investigators were shifting their focus from finding the teen alive to finding her remains.
"After conducting interviews on Friday with a subject connected to the investigation, we no longer consider this a missing persons investigation, but we are now conducting an active homicide investigation," said Sheriff Richard Roundtree.
One week ago, District Attorney Natalie Paine told a judge the state presumed the 16-year-old was either dead or unable to communicate. Since then, the sheriff said they've gotten new information that leads them to believe Carwell may have been murdered.
"We will be conducting additional searches, phone calls, interviews and follow ups this week until we are able to recover Miss Carwell's body and lay her to rest," Roundtree said.
Both of the teen's parents are now in custody on charges related to the disappearance of the teen. Leon was picked up in DeKalb County for the outstanding kidnapping case in Richmond County and faced felony charges of aggravated stalking, theft by taking and a probation violation from 2009. He waived his first appearance in court.
Leon's wife, Tanya Faye Tripp, was also arrested for allegedly hindering the apprehension of a criminal. During the investigation, detectives said that she had moved from Augusta to the Atlanta area to be with Leon and tried to help him evade police. Tanya is being held in the Atlanta City Jail.
Investigators didn't reveal much other information, including whether Carwell's parents are cooperating with the investigation. He also didn't say whether the teen ever actually made it out of Augusta, though she and Leon had reportedly been spotted in the Atlanta area on May 1. However, they were confident they would find Carwell's remains by the end of this week.
"We had a search team in the metro Atlanta area come out this weekend and conducted multiple searches of the area, and they will be out again this week conducting additional searches based on forensic evidence...but we have not yet located the particular area in which we believe the remains are," Roundtree said.
Anyone with information is asked to call 706-821-1020 during business hours or contact dispatch after hours at 706-821-1080 and ask for the on-call investigator. All calls can be handled confidentially.
Editors note: A previous version of this story erroneously said Leon and Tanya Tripp were arrested on charges unrelated to Carwell's disappearance. That was incorrect. The text has been updated.
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