San Antonio police: Baby Gabriel case now a homicide

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SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio police chief announced Saturday that investigators are now treating the case of Baby Gabriel, the Tempe baby who has been missing since late December, as a homicide and a kidnapping.

William McManus said his department is gearing up to search an East Side landfill for the body of little Gabriel Johnson.

"There have been numerous lead that we continue to follow up that hopefully could lead us to Baby Gabriel," McManus said. "We're not 100 percent certain that they will pan out. We are going to search that landfill. The question becomes, 'Why are you searching that landfill if this is a missing persons case?' So, all hopes are that we would find the baby alive, but we are going to proceed with the murder investigation."

McManus said labeling the case a homicide is a procedural step.

The 8-month-old baby was last seen with his mother, Elizabeth Johnson, in San Antonio on Dec. 26. Johnson, 23, was arrested in Florida a few days later and then extradited to Arizona where she now sits behind bars at the Fourth Avenue Jail. So far, she's only been charged with kidnapping, child abuse and custodial interference. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Johnson fled the state with the baby after his father, Logan McQueary, was awarded custody. At one point, Johnson told McQueary she killed the baby. She later told investigators she gave Gabriel to a San Antonio couple, but did not know their names. Police said Johnson has not been cooperating with investigators.

San Antonio police began laying the groundwork for the landfill search earlier this month.  A segment of the 1,000-acre facility has already been blocked off.

According to San Antonio police, McQueary arrived in San Antonio Friday night and met with local authorities there early Saturday.

Today's announcement regarding the homicide investigation came as members of the McQueary family were planning an event to raise money to cover McQueary's travel expenses.

"It is devastating," said Kelli McQueary. "But until we see proof that Gabriel is not with us, we will keep the live search going."

World-renowned private investigator Jay J. Armes has taken on the Baby Gabriel case and has been retracing Johnson's steps. Even though a search for the baby's body is imminent, he believes the child was the center of an underground adoption.

Earlier this month, Tempe police arrested Tammi Smith, a person of interest in the case. Smith and her husband had hoped to adopt Gabriel before Johnson left the state with him. Smith is charged with conspiracy to commit custodial interference and forgery. At this point, police do not believe the Smiths know what happened to the baby.

With Smith's arrest, Tempe police have wrapped up what they can of their investigation.

"Our main goal is to find Gabriel," said Sgt. Steven Carbajal. "We're going to assist San Antonio with what we can ... ."

The search of that San Antonio landfill is expected to begin as soon as weather there permits.