WHITE CLOUD, Mich.-- The frantic search for a missing 4-month-old came to a tragic end in White Cloud this week. Baby Natallya Rich was found dead in the basement of her family’s home by police. They were led there after the mother's boyfriend, Matthew Bradley, was arrested near Big Rapids. As the charges against him move forward in court, there are big questions still remaining, including how the infant died.
The infant's death has crushed the tight-knit community in White Cloud. Relatives, friends and others are still trying to come to terms with this death.
The heartbreaking death investigation has brought instant feelings of sadness, and sometimes anger right to the surface. Questions of whether or not an Amber Alert should have been issued, is just one of the pieces that still have people talking. As the mourning process continues for Natallya, investigators are still working to determine what exactly led up to the infant's death.
“I couldn`t find him, couldn`t find the car, couldn`t find her [Natallya],” said Heidi Thill, the baby’s grandmother, on Tuesday night when she thought the infant was just missing.
For Thill, the search for baby Natallya started Saturday. Brittany Rich, Natallya's mother, left for work that morning, leaving the infant in boyfriend, Matthew Bradley's care. Rich returned home not feeling well, and decided to take a nap. When she woke up, she found both Bradley and Natallya gone.
Fear of the infant's whereabouts spiked Tuesday morning after Bradley was spotted wandering around the White Cloud area with no sign of Natallya.
Grandma Thill called police, and jumped on Facebook to get the word out.
“Very, very sad. They [White Cloud Police] won`t issue an Amber Alert. They claim Natallya is not in danger, but how do we know she`s not in danger?”
Hours passed, with no signs of Natallya, Bradley, or Brittany. Relatives say Brittany made contact with Bradley and went to meet him and find the baby. The pair were taken into custody Tuesday night at a Wendy’s in Big Rapids.
“I`m relieved, but yet I am still afraid because I don`t have her [Natallya] back yet. I am happy they are both found but I still want my Natallya back,” said Grandma Thill last Tuesday night.
Relief was short lived when a few hours later several police agencies arrived at the family home. demanding the family come out, so they could search the home. Grandma Thill began to become upset as they put up caution tape around her home.
“Why? She was four and a half month old baby girl. What could she possibly do wrong?”
Bradley told police the 4-month-old was hidden in a crawlspace in the family basement.
“She was so beautiful. She was just starting to talk, just starting to baby talk,” said Thill.
With Bradley held on an outstanding warrant, and Brittany cooperating with the investigation, police set their sights on the home to gather evidence.
“I don`t even know if I can live there anymore,” said Grandma Thill.
Early Wednesday, authorities brief the media responding to questions of why no Amber Alert was issued.
“The entire time the info the police chief had was that the baby was in no danger, and that she was with her father or he knew her whereabouts,” said Abby Watkins, director of Newaygo County Emergency Management.
Wednesday afternoon, Matthew Bradley’s sister, Stephanie Wert, admits to Fox 17 News that she lied about babysitting baby Natallya.
“He’s my brother, and families stick together. He asked me to do one little thing, and I did it,” said Wert.
Thursday morning, Bradley was arraigned on the outstanding warrant, along with a felony charge for concealing the baby`s death. Baby Natallya`s mother crying to her mother during the arraignment.
“He needs to start telling the truth. I want answers to why this happened to my baby,” said Brittany Rich.
Testimony from the probable cause hearing says Bradley confessed to taking a nap with the baby Saturday and when he woke up, she was unresponsive. He told police he hid her in a car seat and put her in the crawlspace in the basement. Also, Bradley admitted he was on drugs such as meth, norco pills, and morphine on the days before and after the infant’s death.
“If he did something wrong he should be punished,” said Ruth Byrd, Bradley’s aunt, at the hearing.
An autopsy has already been performed, but authorities say it could take up to a month to determine a cause of death in this case. The vigil is planned for Saturday. For more information click here.