A child who looked like the five-year-old girl who disappeared in Calgary this week was spotted carrying a reddish suitcase with an unknown man the day police found the missing girl's mother dead, according to investigators.
Calgary Police Service consider the luggage a hopeful sign Taliyah Leigh Marsman is still alive, if it was indeed her carrying the bag.
Witnesses report seeing a child who looked like Taliyah with a "stocky, black male" around 11:30 a.m. Monday in the girl's suburban neighbourhood, police said Wednesday. The girl believed to be Taliyah was wearing red or pink boots with white polka dots. She and the unidentified man were walking away from Taliyah's mother's new white Ford Fusion, which was parked near their home. Sara Baillie, the girl's 34-year-old single mother, was found dead in her basement suite Monday evening. Police have declared her death a homicide.
Ms. Baillie is estranged from Taliyah's father, Colin Marsman. He is co-operating with police. CPS has not labelled anyone a suspect, although detectives have been able to "narrow" the investigation, Inspector Don Coleman told reporters Wednesday.
"The suitcase is a promising indication that whoever [Taliyah is] with has intentions of caring for her to some degree," he said. "We're hopeful that whoever does have her … maybe didn't realize the situation or is trying to figure out how to resolve it.
"Whoever that is needs to be aware that any time children are harmed, that it changes the game and takes things to a whole new level for everybody – police, community, even other people in jail don't take kindly to that sort of thing," Insp. Coleman said.
He would not directly address whether investigators have any clues about the stocky man's identity. "We've been able to narrow our investigation, the focus of the investigation, somewhat," he said when asked about leads related to the man. "We don't have anybody specifically identified yet in any role, but … we've been able to narrow the focus."
Taliyah is described as mixed-race with curly brown hair and blue eyes. She is slim, and a family friend said she is tall for her age.
On Wednesday, Mr. Marsman begged the public for help finding Taliyah. "I want to make a plea to anyone out there who knows anything about where my baby is. Please, it's never too late to do the right thing," he said in a statement released through a friend. "With all my heart, I love her so much; she is my light! Please allow her to come home to her family."
He added: "Those who know me best, know the person and kind of father I am and know more than anything I just want my baby girl back."
Mr. Marsman addressed Ms. Baillie's family: "I also want to send my deepest condolences to Sara's family during this time."
Taliyah's parents have a history of "domestic violence," according to police. Mr. Marsman, 37, was charged with unlawful confinement and intimidation by threats on Feb. 1, 2015. A peace bond was issued in March, the day the charges were withdrawn.
CPS is not releasing Ms. Baillie's cause of death. It will not provide details about the crime scene.
Police believe Ms. Baillie and her daughter visited a Dairy Queen on Sandarac Drive in Calgary's northwest around 5:30 p.m. Sunday, based on security footage from the ice cream shop. Ms. Baillie twice spoke with family there, and police would like to identify those individuals, believing they may be the last people to have seen the mother alive and her child in her care.
Ms. Baillie's Facebook has been relabelled as a remembrance page. Taliyah, dressed up for the Calgary Stampede in a cowboy hat, riding a stick horse and posing in front of an old-fashioned backdrop, is the first photo. Photos of the child wearing a sparkly red outfit at a dance recital, holding four roses – pink, white, and two yellow ones – were posted in June. In an April shot, Taliyah is dressed in a grey Nike sweater and cleats, and playing with a soccer ball on a pitch.
Ms. Baillie did not show up for work Monday, prompting family members to visit her home at 1111 Panamount Blvd. They could find neither her nor Taliyah, and called CPS around 8:30 p.m. Police then found Ms. Baillie's body in her home.
With files from The Canadian Press