Published Monday, June 7, 2021 | 3:12 p.m.
Updated Monday, June 7, 2021 | 5:14 p.m.
A boy found dead 10 days ago on the outskirts of Las Vegas is 7-year-old Liam Husted, and his mother is wanted on a murder warrant, Metro Police announced this afternoon.
Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, 35, was last spotted in the Denver area on May 31, where she checked herself into a hotel alone, Lt. Ray Spencer said.
A possible motive for the killing hasn’t been established, although “there’s nothing at this point that would indicate that there was any prior abuse that we’re aware of,” Spencer said during a news conference, where he announced the breakthrough in the slaying investigation.
The FBI is assisting in a nationwide search for Moreno Rodriguez, Spencer said. A warrant for her arrest was issued earlier today, Las Vegas Justice Court logs show.
The woman and the boy took off from San Jose, Calif., on May 24, Spencer said. They were traveling in a dark blue 2007 Dodge Caliber, a hatchback that was “packed full of belongings,” which left no seating room for anyone else, Spencer said.
The trip took them through Southern California, where they were spotted in Laguna Beach and Victorville two days later, Spencer said.
Two days after that, on May 28, a person hiking in the Mountain Springs community, about 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas, found the boy’s remains in a “forest area,” police said.
Moreno Rodriguez’s Dodge was spotted driving the next day on Interstate 70, near Grand Junction, Colo., Spencer said.
Her last known whereabouts are at the Colorado hotel, Spencer said.
“At this point we believe ... she’s traveling alone,” Spencer said.
“Tremendous amounts of resources and effort” from law enforcement have gone into identifying the boy, who was only known as John “Little Zion” Doe, Spencer said. Early in the investigation, a Las Vegas woman misidentified the victim as her 8-year-old boy, sending police on a manhunt for his half-brother and their father. The man and the boys, who'd been camping in Utah, were found safe.
An hour before stepping to a podium at Metro headquarters, Spencer called Liam's father to let him know about the development.
“It’s a heartbreaking conversation to have,” he said. “This has been an emotional last 10 days for myself (and) all the investigators that have been working on it ... and we’re just glad that we’re able to get some closure for Liam, and then hold the person responsible for this crime accountable.”
A break in the investigation
On June 1, Liam’s father contacted the San Jose Police Department to note that he hadn’t heard from his son, Spencer said. The man did not feel Liam was in danger and was “not trying to get the mother into trouble; he didn’t file any type of charges,” said Spencer, noting that the man is not suspected in the boy’s disappearance or death “whatsoever.”
Upon seeing a composite sketch of the victim in various news reports, a family friend also contacted the same California agency on Friday and said the boy looked like Liam, and that she hadn’t seen or heard from his mother in two weeks, Spencer said.
The San Jose Police Department pinged Metro, and a detective took a flight to California the next morning to retrieve some of Liam’s clothing and a pillow to obtain DNA.
Over the weekend, a scientist in a Metro forensics lab worked to link the DNA to the slaying victim. A match was made late Sunday in conjunction with the Clark County Coroner’s Office.
Spencer hasn’t disclosed how Liam died and the Coroner’s Office hasn’t released a cause of death.
Moreno Rodriguez has traveled to Las Vegas in the past. Spencer is asking hotels and motels in the area to check their registries to see if she checked herself in around the time of the crime.
“Anyone who may have recognized her and Liam in the Las Vegas Valley on the 27th or 28th of May” should contact police, Spencer said.