CHRISTIANSBURG — The father of missing 3-month-old Arieanna Day told police that he dug a shallow grave with his hands and left her on a Montgomery County hillside.
Andrew Christopher Terry of Blacksburg watched Thursday in Montgomery County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court as a prosecutor played an interrogation video in which Terry said he buried his child after she died in his car.
Judge Samuel Viar sent a felony charge of illegal disposal of a body on to a grand jury, which will consider whether Terry should be tried in the county’s Circuit Court.
Terry, who was 31 when he was arrested last month, spoke only from the recording Thursday. He did not take the witness stand and his attorney, Angi Simpkins of Dublin, said that she would not put on evidence at the preliminary hearing.
But the interrogation video and the testimony of several investigators, and of Jessica Day, Arieanna’s mother, began to offer a picture of a disappearance that has so far been lacking in public details.
Questioned by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cristina Agee, Day described how her baby disappeared from her Roanoke home on the night of Sept. 11. Investigators recounted Terry’s claim — which they said he recanted at one point — that he buried Arieanna after she died as he drove from Day’s house to his own residence in Blacksburg.
Together, the statements outlined a turbulent relationship between Day and Terry, with Terry offering repeatedly to take Arieanna and care for her, and Day saying that she had filed to get a court order giving her custody and child support payments.
Day said that around midday on Sept. 11, Terry had come by her apartment in the 1100 block of Hanover Avenue and had put Arieanna to sleep for a nap, then left for work.
Day said Terry had at different times said that he wanted custody of Arieanna, but also that she should take the baby to an adoption agency. Day, who has four other children, admitted on cross-examination that she had told Terry she did not want to be a mother for a fifth time.
Day said she breastfed Arieanna and at about 9:30 p.m. left her sleeping on Day’s bed. During the next half hour, she said that she was in her kitchen, out of sight of the bedroom, on the phone with Terry one or more times, and walked around the house. Just before 10 p.m., Day testified, she returned to her bedroom to find her 6-year-old sleeping on the bed — and Arieanna gone.
Day said that she smelled cigarette smoke and immediately called Terry and asked where he’d taken their baby. He denied having Arieanna, Day said. By 11 p.m., having talked to Terry several times, Day called city police, she said.
Terry gave a very different account, telling investigators that he went back to Day’s apartment after leaving his job in Roanoke. Day met him out front, carrying Arieanna, and told him to take the baby, Terry said, according to testimony from Roanoke Detective P.H. Delp.
Delp said that he questioned Terry from 1 or 2 a.m. on Sept. 12 until 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., when Terry agreed to take a polygraph examination. It was after that, as Terry smoked a cigarette outside the Roanoke Police Department, that Terry told the story of Day handing him Arieanna, and what happened next, Delp said.
In the interrogation video, Terry said Arieanna had a slight cut and general swelling, but seemed to be breathing all right. Asked why he did not take Arieanna for medical care, he said that he was scared. Instead, Terry took Arieanna to his car and drove toward Blacksburg.
Twenty or 30 minutes into the drive, Arieanna stopped breathing, Terry said.
After leaving Interstate 81 at Exit 128 in Ironto, he drove up the valley toward Blacksburg. Somewhere along the way, near railroad tracks and the intersection of Cedar Run and Jennelle roads, he stopped and scooped out a grave for Arieanna with his hands, Terry said.
On the late afternoon of Sept. 12, Terry took officers to the location but a search that evening with cadaver dogs failed to find the gravesite or the baby, as did subsequent searches.
Lt. John Stephens of the Roanoke Police Department testified that Terry said the grave he made was so shallow that the wind might have uncovered Arieanna. Yet searchers found no trace of the baby or of a grave.
On the recording, made on Sept. 13, officers reminded Terry that he’d changed his story during the initial search, telling investigators that he made up the account of Arieanna’s death and burial. Terry replied that he actually was telling the truth when he took police to the railroad tracks.
“I swear to you she’s over there somewhere,” Terry said on the recording.
Searches have continued, with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office last week renewing a request for anyone with information to come forward. Investigators hope that someone saw Terry or his vehicle on the night of Sept. 11. He was driving a black Nissan Maxima with Virginia license plate VWP-1130, investigators said.
Efforts to find Arieanna have so far have focused on North Fork Road, Lusters Gate Road, Jennelle Road and Cedar Run Road in Montgomery County, Capt. Brian Wright said in a news release last week.
Investigators are asking anyone with information to call the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office at (540) 382-6915 or Roanoke police at (540) 853-2212.