Aliayah Paige Lunsford

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Top Row and Bottom Left and Center: Aliayah, circa 2011;
Bottom Right: Age-progression to age 5 (circa 2013)

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: September 24, 2011 from Weston, West Virginia
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Date Of Birth: July 29, 2008
  • Age: 3 years old
  • Height and Weight: 3'0, 35 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Brown hair, brown eyes. Aliyah's ears are pierced and her top four front teeth are missing. Her name is pronounced "Ah-LEE-ah."
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: A pink sweatshirt with a picture of a princess, purple Dora the Explorer pajama bottoms and no shoes.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Aliayah was last seen in bed in her Weston, West Virginia home on September 24, 2011. She had been sick with flu-like symptoms, including vomiting, the previous evening. When her mother, Lena Marie Lunsford, went to check on her at 6:30 a.m., Aliayah was in bed asleep. The child's nine-year-old sister also saw her around that time. The next time her mother checked, at 9:00 a.m., she was gone. She has never been heard from again. Her mother didn't report her missing until 11:30 a.m., five hours after she was last seen and two and a half hours after Lena realized she was gone. She said that in the interim she drove around in her car looking for Aliayah, running out of gas at one point. A photograph of Lena is posted below this case summary.

    There were no indications of forced entry to the house, and an extensive search of the area, including a nearby river, turned up no sign of the child. Aliayah's family described her as shy and said she would never have left her house or yard alone. Nine days following Aliayah's disappearance, her four siblings, aged between nine months and eleven years old, were removed from the household and placed in foster care. The state Department of Health and Human Resources didn't give a reason, but it's worth noting that all of Lena's children, including Aliayah, had previously spent time in foster homes or with relatives. She was pregnant with twin girls at the time Aliayah went missing, and the babies were taken from her after they were born.

    In the month following Aliayah's disappearance, Lena was arrested on federal charges of welfare fraud. She and her husband, Ralph Keith Lunsford, who is Aliayah's stepfather, both have criminal records for various charges for minor offenses. Lena's mother, who occasionally cared for Aliayah, died in early 2012. In February 2013, while Lena was in jail, she lost her parental rights to her other six children. Ralph, who is the father of five of the children, also had his parental rights terminated. Photographs of Lena and Ralph are posted below this case summary. They divorced in the wake of Aliayah's disappearance. The court found the Lunsford children had been neglected and some of them had irreversible tooth decay as a result.

    Court documents noted that Lena and Ralph had "vaguely accused" each other of involvement in Aliayah's disappearance; the court believed Lena knew more about her daughter's disappearance than she disclosed. Lena maintained she knows nothing about what happened to Aliayah and only hopes she's still alive. She was released from jail shortly after losing her parental rights, but later re-incarcerated for a series of probation violations related to her welfare fraud conviction. Lena spent the next few years in and out of custody; she was jailed three times in the five years after Aliayah's disappearance.

    In November 2016, over five years after Aliayah's disappearance, Lena was arrested in her new residence of St. Petersburg, Florida and charged with homicide by child abuse in her case. According to court documents, witnesses claim they saw Lena hit Aliayah in the head with a blunt object. Aliayah fell to the floor and as she lay there visibly suffering and dying, Lena refused to help her daughter or allow others to help her. She then tried to cover up the crime by concealing the body, destroying evidence, making up the kidnapping story and instructing the witnesses to lie. Aliayah's body has yet to be located; Lena has been extradited back to West Virginia and is awaiting trial. If convicted, she could face up to forty years in prison, although she'd be eligible for parole after ten years.

    Foul play is suspected in Aliayah's disappearance due to the circumstances involved.

    Lena Ralph
    Left: Lena Lunsford;
    Right: Ralph Lunsford

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Lewis County Sheriff's Office
    304-269-8245

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    Source Information
    The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children
    Facebook Page for Aliayah Lunsford
    The Examiner
    America's Most Wanted
    WDTV
    West Virginia Metro News
    CNN
    The Charleston Gazette
    Aliayah Lunsford
    The Charleston Daily Mail
    The West Virginia State Journal
    The Charleston Gazette-Mail
    WSAZ 3
    The Exponent Telegram

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    Updated 8 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated November 10, 2016; details of disappearance updated.

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