Updated June 8, 2021 - 4:41 pm
The day before hikers found missing California 7-year-old Liam Husted dead in Mountain Springs, he and his mother were staying at a Las Vegas hotel, police announced Tuesday afternoon.
“We are 100 percent confident that he was killed here in Clark County,” Metropolitan Police Department homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said. “Specifically, we believe he was actually killed in Mountain Springs.”
Liam’s mother, Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, 35, was arrested in Denver about 6 a.m. Tuesday on suspicion of murder by the FBI’s Denver Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force, Las Vegas police said — one day after police announced Liam’s identity and declared her a wanted suspect.
The 35-year-old woman from San Jose, California, was booked into Denver’s Downtown Detention Center to await extradition to Las Vegas, jail records show.
Joined by the FBI, Spencer told reporters in a news conference Tuesday that Las Vegas police and federal investigators have been combing through hundreds of tips since Liam’s previously unidentified body was discovered early May 28 near the Mountain Springs Trailhead, off state Route 160 between Las Vegas and Pahrump.
“It’s emotionally draining, working a case like this,” Spencer said. “Being able to have closure and identify Liam was very important, and now that we’re able to make an arrest on this case, (it’s) extremely gratifying.”
When Liam was still being referred to as John “Little Zion” Doe, the FBI offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his identification or an arrest. The agency did not release further details about the reward money Tuesday.
“While the outcome is heartbreaking, there’s a sense of closure that Liam Husted will no longer be referred to as a John Doe,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jeremy Schwartz said Tuesday.
Liam was last seen in the San Jose, California, area with his mother May 24. Liam’s father reported the boy missing to San Jose police June 1 after he could not reach Rodriguez, Spencer said.
The father is not considered a suspect in the case, Spencer has said, adding that investigators have found he had “no involvement whatsoever.”
On May 24, Liam’s father came home to find Liam and Rodriguez’s belongings gone, Spencer said. Rodriguez had left him a voicemail saying “I’m sorry. I had to do this.”
“She also goes on to say that ‘I’m going to try to get a house for Liam and I’ and that ‘we can talk about this in the future,’ ” Spencer said Tuesday, quoting from the voicemail.
For the next week, Liam’s father “did not know what to do,” but he contacted the San Jose Police Department to document the incident June 1, after not hearing from Rodriguez.
“San Jose police responded to his house, and they spoke with him,” Spencer said. “The patrol officers listened to this message — I’ve also listened to the message — and there was nothing suspicious from that message.”
Rodriguez’s friend who saw news reports about the previously unidentified boy found near Las Vegas contacted San Jose police Friday because she believed the boy looked like Liam, Spencer said. San Jose officials contacted Metro that evening.
Metro detectives flew to San Jose on Saturday. They collected items of Liam’s clothing and a pillow to compare DNA evidence and confirm his identity, Spencer said.
Investigators determined that Rodriguez and Liam passed through Laguna Beach, California, after leaving San Jose. Police placed them in Victorville, California, on May 26 — two days before Liam’s body was found in the small Mountain Springs community.
His body had been in the area for about 12 hours when hikers found him dead about 7:45 a.m. May 28, police have said. On Monday, Spencer said Rodriguez’s last known location was the Denver area, where had been seen checking into a hotel alone May 31.
It remains unclear why she drove to Colorado, where Spencer said she was arrested without incident early Tuesday.
In the hours after the boy’s body was found, police launched an extensive search to identify him. A case of mistaken identity May 29 briefly confused investigators, after a local woman thought she recognized her 8-year-old son in a police sketch released by Metro.
The woman’s son and the boy’s half-brother were quickly found safe with their father that afternoon, camping without cell service in central Utah. Metro continued to dig through tips, and the FBI on Saturday launched a nationwide social media campaign searching for information on the boy’s death.
“I’ll tell you what I have learned over the last 10 days is how many missing children there are nationally,” Spencer said Tuesday. “I was inundated with reports of missing children from all over the United States.”
The Clark County coroner’s office confirmed Liam’s identity Monday after Metro released his name. His cause and manner of death were still pending as of Tuesday morning, and Spencer declined to say how the boy died.
Rodriguez was formally charged with murder Monday, Las Vegas Justice Court records show.