Father held in death of 3-week-old Santa Clarita girl

Ellorah Rose Warner was born with gentle blue eyes and a full head of dark brown hair.

When the 3-week-old went missing Friday, gifts and well wishes were still arriving in the mail, a family member said.

Her body was found Saturday morning in a pickup truck in Santa Clarita. Soon after, her father, Matthew Warner, 30, was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Warner and his girlfriend, the child's mother, arrived at the sheriff's station about 9:30 p.m. Friday to report the girl missing. Deputies from three stations set out on an all-night search with helicopters, canines and the help of neighbors. They held the couple overnight for questioning and searched their apartment, authorities said.

About 7 a.m., Warner led deputies to a small, blue-gray truck parked outside an apartment complex in the 23600 block of Newhall Avenue, about half a mile from the family's home.

The baby was found dead in the front cab, said Lt. Holly Francisco of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Details of how she died were not released because of the pending investigation.

"It's a tragic situation for everybody involved," Francisco said, adding that the mother would be held for additional questioning. She described the woman, whose name was not released, as distraught.

"She's behaving as any mother who just lost their child would behave," Francisco said.

Residents of the quiet apartment complex where the couple lived with the baby and her grandmother were shaken by the news. They planned to start a fund to help the family with the funeral costs.

"I wish I could turn back the hands of time and I would have seen something," said Mario Garcia, 36. "I would have stopped it."

Saturday afternoon, Nan Allison, the child's grandmother, sat somberly in a lawn chair outside the family's apartment. She was surrounded by neighbors and yellow crime scene tape. A few feet away, homicide detectives searched her home for clues.

Ellorah was her first grandchild. She had learned of her death a few hours earlier.

She said her daughter, who had returned to work as a daycare provider, left for her job early Friday morning. Warner and Ellorah remained in the couple's room.

Allison had a rocky relationship with Warner, who had dated her daughter for about two years. He had been in jail and didn't have a job, she said.

That morning, Allison said, she heard some rustling and unusual noises coming from the couple's bedroom. The baby's crying seemed weak. As the afternoon progressed, she didn't hear her granddaughter anymore. She thought perhaps the child had fallen asleep.

By 5 p.m., when she noticed the breast milk her daughter left in the refrigerator had not been touched and saw that Warner was acting unusually hyper, she tried to call her daughter. But she said Warner had disconnected the phone line.

Allison then went to a neighbor's house to call police. But Warner had left and police were unable to locate him.

She said that two neighbors told her later that they saw Warner leaving the complex carrying a small bundle in his hands.

When Allison's daughter came home from work, the couple talked and at about 9:30 p.m. went to the sheriff's station to report the child missing.

"He told my daughter someone had taken the baby from the apartment," Allison said.

The details were painful to recount. Her granddaughter, Allison said, was a gentle child who hardly fussed.

When they brought her home from the hospital, the new grandmother said she was eager to show her first grandchild to the world, but the days were cold and windy. So the baby stayed inside.

"She was perfect in every way," she said. "I don't even have a photo of her. The ones they took at the hospital haven't arrived yet."

On the couple's Facebook page, a dozen images remain of the girl, swaddled and gently resting in her father or mother's arms.

Allison said her daughter doted on her child.

"She got her a Playard, a bassinet and a crib," Allison said. "But she didn't use them because she always wanted to have the baby right next to her in bed."

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

Times photographer Irfan Khan contributed to this report.

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