- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Fourteen years after a toddler vanished in San Diego, his stepfather was arrested across the country and expected to face a murder charge in the death of the 2-year-old boy whose body was never found.

Federal and state authorities arrested Tieray D. Jones on Monday in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a small town about 50 miles east of Raleigh. California officials plan to request the 37-year-old be extradited to face charges of murder and felony child abuse causing death, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said.

“I wasn’t sure this day was ever going to come,” said Dumanis, calling the 2002 disappearance one of the “highest-profile unsolved cases in San Diego County.”

“This case has weighed heavily on all of us and our hearts go out to the family,” Dumanis said.

The disappearance of Jahi Turner on April 25, 2002, came only months after a 7-year-old girl was kidnapped from her home and killed. Police searched for the boy for weeks, combing parks and a landfill, but turned up no sign of him.

Police said they hope the development will help lead to the boy’s remains.

Authorities at the time questioned Jones, who was caring for the boy while his 18-year-old wife, a sailor, served aboard a San Diego-based Navy ship. The boy had been in the city for only five days before he vanished. Before that, he had been living with his grandmother in Frederick, Maryland.

Jones told police the boy went missing from a playground after he left the toddler for 15 minutes to buy a soda. Officials discounted Jones’ story because of inconsistencies, but they said in 2002 that they lacked evidence to charge him.

New evidence led to the arrest, but San Diego officials declined to give specifics on what it was or where it was found. It was not clear if Jones had an attorney.

Homicide detectives and prosecutors began to piece together new evidence and additional leads two years ago, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said. The detective who broke the case had stayed in contact with the family, officials said.

Zimmerman recalled when the call came in about the missing boy. Dozens of police and sheriff’s deputies searched the neighborhood and a nearby canyon for the toddler, with help from a helicopter and police dogs.

The boy’s mother and stepfather moved back to Maryland in 2003. Jones pleaded guilty in 2006 to an unrelated assault charge for a barrage of gunfire in Frederick in 2004 that missed the targeted man. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

In an earlier case, Jones had been scheduled to stand trial on a second-degree murder charge stemming from the shooting death of a 27-year-old man in Frederick on Aug. 30, 2000. Instead, the state dropped the charges, citing the disappearance or changed statements of nearly a dozen prosecution witnesses.

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