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Missing girl getting national attention

Lunsford case featured on HLN cable channel

September 28, 2012
By Brad Johnson - News Editor , The Inter-Mountain

National media attention has focused on the case of missing 3-year-old Aliayah Lunsford this week following Monday's one-year anniversary of her disappearance.

Television journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell devoted part of her interview program on the HLN cable channel Wednesday evening to the search for Lunsford, who was reported missing from her home in the Bendale area south of Weston on Sept. 24, 2011.

In addition, an in-depth Associated Press article noting the one-year anniversary ran in newspapers across the country this week, and was featured on the Fox News, CBS News and Huffington Post websites.

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On the Velez-Mitchell program, the host asked Lunsford's great-aunt Vickie Bowen about the haunting photographs of the girl that have circulated, particularly one in which she has a bruised face, close-cropped hair and a mournful expression.

Bowen said there were "smiling photos" of Aliayah taken when she was younger and living with relatives. According to Bowen, Aliayah was born while her mother, Lena Lunsford, was in jail, and the girl became "sad" when her mother was released and took custody of Aliayah in the spring of 2011.

Bowen also said she believes Aliayah was abused by Lena Lunsford and her husband, Ralph Lunsford.

Lena Lunsford is currently serving an eight-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to selling $114 worth of credit on her food-stamp card for $50 cash.

She filed for divorce from Ralph Lunsford after her daughter's disappearance. She'd been ordered by a judge to live apart from her husband after he acknowledged buying and using synthetic drugs called bath salts.

During the Velez-Mitchell program, Bowen and Aliayah's aunt Trina Smith both expressed hope that the girl is still alive and will be found. Velez-Mitchell said her program would continue to focus on the case in the future.

Authorities have made no arrests and named no suspects, only describing the people of interest in the case as "a small universe."

Six months after the girl's disappearance, an official from the Federal Bureau of Investigation said investigators had a working theory about what happened - and it didn't involve a break-in. The agency has since refused to say what agents believe happened to Aliayah or whether they think she's still alive, though it is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to her recovery or an arrest.

Concern for Aliayah has spawned several Facebook groups with the aim of gathering information to try to locate the girl.

Several candlelight vigils and other events over the last year have tried to raise awareness and gather information about the missing child.

The Lunsford case also was featured on the Nancy Grace show on HLN several times in 2011.

Anyone with information is urged to call the West Virginia Fusion Center at 304-558-4831, or contact local law enforcement with the tip.

Contact Brad Johnson by email at



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