JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The man charged in connection with 3-year-old Mariah Woods' death made his first court appearance Monday morning in Onslow County.
A judge read the charges against 32-year-old Earl Kimrey and ordered him to be held on a $1 million bond.
The Onslow County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI believe they found Mariah's body in Shelter Creek along Shaw Highway in Pender County. A positive confirmation will be made by the medical examiner's office, officials said.
According to arrest warrants, officials believe Kimrey "secretly disposed" of the toddler's body because he knew that she did not die of natural causes.
FBI officials said they are investigating this case as a homicide.
"We've had a tremendous amount of people came out from the community, willing to assist, not only with their support, but their willingness to help and with their prayers for this community,” district attorney Ernie Lee said.
Kimrey was arrested after several days of exhaustive searches for the girl. He is charged with multiple offenses, including concealing a death, obstruction of justice and burglary.
Officials told Channel 9 Kimrey was the boyfriend of Woods' mother and lived with them in the home. Woods’ mother first reported her missing Monday morning.
FBI officials said in a release Saturday that they have evidence to believe Mariah is deceased, but that her body has not yet been found.
The agency is transitioning from search operations to recovery operations, officials said.
Officials said more than 700 people turned up Friday to join the search for the toddler. Dozens had to be turned away.
Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller said that volunteers came from as far away as Raleigh, which is 120 miles southeast of Jacksonville.
On Thursday, Miller called on civilians to join law enforcement officers in the land and air search for Mariah.
The FBI said it sent "items of interest" to its lab in Quantico, Virginia, for priority testing in the case.
The sheriff said Wilmington Police Department officers and New Hanover County Sheriff's deputies were searching on horseback, and boats from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries were in on the search.
Woods' mother, Kristy Woods, told WITN-TV in Greenville that she last saw her daughter at about 11 p.m. Sunday when she checked on her. She said Kimrey saw the child at about midnight when she got up and he told her to go back to bed. Once they realized she was missing, the couple said they called authorities.
She made a plea for the girl's safe return Monday night.
"This is my world. This is my angel," the mother said. "She was sent to me for a reason. This is my everything besides my boys, the love that I have for this girl."
But the girl's biological father, Alex Woods, said he doubts Mariah's mother's story.
"Someone just walked right up in there, grabbed the 3-year-old out of the bed and she didn't cry? She didn't scream?" the father told WCTI-TV in New Bern on Tuesday. "Nobody heard anything? Four people in the house, two adults and two kids, someone just comes up and snatches the baby and walks out?"
Four volunteer fire departments, the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department and K-9 units searched in the wooded area behind the girl’s home and in surrounding wooded areas, WCTI reported. They also used a helicopter and drones to aid in the search.
"I don't believe she would go out by herself, especially in the dark," said the girl’s grandmother, Anne Edwards. “She's a sweet child but she's shy with strangers, so she wouldn't just go with a stranger."
Edwards said the 3-year-old struggled to get around on her own and wore leg braces for assistance.
"It's really tough because it's just like everybody says: 'I didn't believe this could happen to me,'" she said.
Neighbors have started a makeshift memorial for Mariah and have dropped off flowers and stuffed animals in memory of the little girl.
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