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Missing 3-year-old girl is presumed dead, and police charge mother's boyfriend

Investigators announced a grim turn in the case of Mariah Woods, a disabled 3-year-old whose mother said she vanished from their eastern North Carolina home on Sunday.

The mother's live-in boyfriend has been arrested in connection with the girl's disappearance, authorities said Saturday morning, and Mariah is likely dead.

Earl Kimrey, 32, was arrested late Friday and charged with concealing a death, obstruction of justice, second-degree burglary, felony larceny and possession of stolen property.

He was being held in the Onslow County Detention Center with bail set at $1,010,000. Authorities haven't said what led investigators to identify Kimrey as a suspect, but other charges could be coming.

According to search warrants obtained by the Jacksonville Daily News, Kimrey is accused of "removing Mariah Woods body from the scene of the her death, and did conceal Mariah Woods death and body."

The warrant says that Mariah died of "unnatural causes" and that Kimrey "acted with deceit and intent to defraud but doesn't provide additional details about how Mariah died.

What is clear is that the focus of the search has shifted. Police and the FBI are no longer looking to find a missing little girl; they're trying to recover her body.

Her disappearance prompted a widespread search, with law enforcement, the military and volunteers from the community looking for the child after her mother's plea for her safe return.

"Please, bring her back," Kristy Woods told CBS-affiliate WNCT. "I love her. I'll do anything that I can, whatever you want. Please just bring her back safe and sound - she's my baby, she's my everything."

Woods said she would give "everything in the world" to have her daughter back, "just to be able to touch her and hold her and not let her go again."

The Onslow County Sheriff's Office released surveillance photos early Wednesday showing a woman with a child at a Walmart in Morehead City on Monday morning and asking the public to help determine whether the child may be Mariah. WCTI later reported that a woman in Newport said the photos show her and her own daughter - not the missing girl.

The woman, Jetta Long, told the news station Wednesday morning that she was frustrated that the surveillance photos "may have gotten the hopes of the family up."

As the search for Mariah intensified, questions swirled about the story told by Mariah's caretakers.

The girl is shy and has an orthopedic leg problem, her grandmother said, according to CBS News. She wears braces on her leg and wobbles when she walks. It was unlikely she would simply wander off, family members said, and if she did, she wouldn't get far.

"She's a sweet child, but she's shy with strangers. So, she wouldn't just go with a stranger," the grandmother said, according to the news station.

Moreover, there were no signs of a struggle or forced entry in Mariah's bedroom.

Alex Woods, Mariah's biological father, told WCTI that he had suspicions about the story of her disappearance. "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?" he said. "Nobody heard anything? Four people in the house, two adults and two kids, someone just comes up and snatches the baby and walks out?"

Author information: Cleve Wootson is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.