FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — To assist her dying father, Tarah Souders made a choice: She moved her three young girls to a run-down trailer park in rural Indiana to help take care of him as his lungs rotted from emphysema.
She knew it could be dangerous. The park of about two dozen homes was teeming with convicted sex offenders, with one living at nearly every address. She worried about neighbors with sex offense records who had been helping her father get by, according to trailer park residents. And before she arrived, she even asked her father if her children could be at risk for abuse from two specific men — including a suspect now accused in her daughter’s death.
“He said, ‘No. They will not touch your children. They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do,’” said Greg Shumaker, one of 15 convicted sex offenders who live at the park and the other man that Souders had inquired about.
Not long after they moved, police say, a horrific tragedy unfolded. Her 9-year-old daughter, Aliahna Lemmon, was brutally killed. Police say 39-year-old Michael Plumadore told investigators that he bludgeoned her to death last week with a brick, then dismembered her and hid her head, hands and feet at her grandfather’s trailer before dumping the other remains elsewhere.
Shumaker said Aliahna’s family moved there to help take care of 66-year-old James E. “Shorty” Lemmon, who also was a convicted sex offender and died Dec. 3. He said Lemmon was “getting old” and “had trouble breathing.”
Shumaker said he introduced Plumadore to Lemmon shortly after Plumadore moved into the trailer park, and Plumadore moved in with Lemmon a few days later. Shumaker said he knew Lemmon because they were both sex offenders and were in jail together.
Sheriff’s department spokesman Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel confirmed that Lemmon was a sex offender. Indiana Department of Correction records show he was convicted of child molesting in March 2006.
Paulette Hair, 45, a former manager at the trailer park who lives at a nearby trailer park, said she also knew Lemmon was a sex offender.
“He stayed out of everybody’s way,” she said. “Shorty couldn’t take care of himself very well.”
Shumaker said Plumadore briefly moved away, but returned when Souders asked him to care for her father.
A man who answered the door at Souders’ home Tuesday afternoon referred all questions to the Allen County sheriff’s department. The home was one of only a few at the trailer park — located off an expressway and across from an open field — with signs of children: A small bicycle, play car and car seat sat on the wooden porch connected to a long wooden ramp.
Aliahna and her two younger sisters were staying with Plumadore for about one week because their mother had been sick with the flu.
Richard Patee, 58, whose trailer is next to where Plumadore was living, said he didn’t think it was odd that Aliahna’s mother had him watching the girls for an extended period.
“They had known each other for somewhere of three to four years, I know that, and he took care of their grandfather,” Patee said. “I didn’t see any reason to question it at all.”
Shumaker said it wasn’t unusual for Plumadore to watch Souders’ children “because the kids liked him.” Souders and Aliahna were listed among nearly 600 friends on a Facebook page listed under Plumadore’s name that said he was “Self Employed and Loving It!”, and enjoyed fantasy novels.
According to the affidavit, Plumadore told police that after beating Aliahna to death on the front steps of the home in the early morning hours Thursday, he stuffed her body into trash bags and hid her in the freezer. He said he later cut up her body with a hacksaw and stuffed her remains into freezer bags.
The next morning, Plumadore made a trip to a convenience store to buy a cigar, according to surveillance video and The Journal Gazette.
Police said Plumadore told them he had hidden Aliahna’s head, feet and hands at the trailer and discarded her other remains at a nearby business. Police obtained a warrant to search the trailer on Monday and found the body parts.
Authorities didn’t say Tuesday why Plumadore killed the child, but Sheriff Ken Fries said investigators suspected Plumadore was involved since soon after she was reported missing Friday night because of inconsistencies in his story that the girl had vanished while he went to a store that morning.
“Things that were said in 29 years of doing this that just didn’t make sense,” Fries said during a Tuesday news conference. “We needed to get him to talk.”
A judge ordered Plumadore held without bail or bond at an initial hearing Tuesday, Tinkel said. He has yet to be formally charged in Aliahna’s death.
Mike McAlexander, the Allen County chief deputy prosecutor, wouldn’t say whether anyone else was suspected of being involved and said “nothing has been ruled out.”
“How could you live?” asked Hair. “How could you sit in that trailer, knowing what you did, knowing what’s in your household when everybody is out there in the cold and the rain praying to God that she comes home safely and you’re sitting there”
A state website shows that 15 registered sex offenders live in the park that numbers about two dozen homes. Self-identified sex offenders living at the trailer park said Tuesday that they were given maps by the Indiana Department of Corrections and a local mission showing them where it was OK to live. The aerial maps show areas legally away from schools and daycare centers and help guide offenders when they are released from prison to new homes.
Plumadore is not on Indiana’s registered sex offenders list. He has a criminal record in Florida and North Carolina that includes convictions for trespassing and assault, and an Indiana conviction for forgery.
Associated Press Writers Tom Davies and Charles Wilson contributed to this story from Indianapolis.