A mother who reported her 18-month-old daughter missing recanted her story and told investigators the child died accidentally and that she dumped the body near a freeway, a sheriff's official said Friday.
Emma Leigh Barker's mother told detectives that when her daughter died, she panicked and believed she would be blamed, Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Diane Hecht said.
A body that coroner's officials have since identified as Emma was found in Los Angeles on Thursday. The cause of death was not immediately determined. A finding on the cause of death was deferred pending further tests that could take weeks.
The 23-year-old mother, whose name has not been released, reported being knocked out by someone while putting Emma into her car in Lancaster on Wednesday. She told investigators Emma was gone when she awoke partially clad hours later in her car in Palmdale. Both cities are in the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles.
Local news from across Southern California
The mother eventually told investigators where she dumped the body, Hecht said. The toddler's remains were found 50 miles from Lancaster in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles in tall grass a few blocks from Interstate 5.
Officials said the mother was not being detained but facts of the case will be presented to the district attorney's office.
"At this point I would not term her a suspect," sheriff's Lt. Pat Nelson said of the mother at a news conference Thursday. "That may change as circumstances develop."
Hecht said the mother was staying with her parents.