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Grave robbery is part of religious ritual, Connecticut police think

  • Story Highlights
  • Toddler's remains found in plastic bag in Passaic River
  • Child was born with brain condition, but lived longer than doctors predicted
  • Police say they think "people thought she had mystical powers"
  • Police say clues point to the practice of the religion Palo Mayombe
From Kiran Khalid
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STAMFORD, Connecticut (CNN) -- Evidence found with the remains of a toddler stolen from her grave in Stamford, Connecticut, has led detectives to believe the crime was part of a religious ritual, officials said Thursday.

Two fishermen discovered the remains of Imani Joyner on Sunday in the Passaic River at Clifton, New Jersey, authorities said. The remains of the child, who was buried in Stamford in April 2007, was in a partially submerged plastic bag.

Police said they don't know when her body was taken from the grave, where they said more evidence was found. Investigators declined to elaborate.

Detectives were able to track Joyner's identity through a bracelet on her wrist, which led them to the hospice where, the Stamford Advocate said, she died of pneumonia. According to the newspaper, Joyner was born in 2004 with semilobar holoprosencephaly, a condition that kept her brain from developing fully.

Doctors had not expected her to live beyond a few days, and when she proved them wrong, Joyner was called the "miracle baby."

"We believe she was targeted because she was dubbed 'the miracle baby' and people thought she had mystical powers," Stamford Police Capt. Richard Conklin said on Thursday.

Conklin said clues point to the practice of the religion Palo Mayombe, which originated in the Congo region of Africa and was brought to the Americas by slaves. Palo Mayombe is often described as the dark side of Santeria, a Caribbean blend of West African beliefs and Catholicism.

Authorities would not explain why they believe there was a ritualistic aspect to the crime.

Conklin said that after police discovered Joyner's identity and burial records, they asked the family for permission to exhume the grave.

"When we dug up the grave site, the ground was intact," he said, adding that vegetation had covered any evidence of tampering.

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