GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – A teenager is accused of killing a 4-year-old girl who was dead Tuesday afternoon in the woods behind a Greenville County home.
On Thursday, the suspect appeared before a magistrate judge.
Emotions filled the courtroom Wednesday afternoon as 17-year-old William Micah Hester stood before a judge for the first time.
“I know in my heart that Micah would not do anything like this on purpose,” said Micah’s father, William Hester.
Micah Hester is the center of an investigation that began around 2:20 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said that’s when they responded to a home on Chevy Chase Boulevard for a report of a missing child.
“When that call came out, our search and rescue teams came out and began a search around the area,” said Lt. Ryan Flood, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.
It was a scene that neighbors said, was concerning.
“I came out to get stuff out of my truck and saw county officers, a lot of them, riding through the neighborhood. So, I knew something was going on,” said Deborah Rice.
A short time after they arrived, deputies discovered it was much more than a missing persons case.
“Around 2:45 p.m., roughly 25 minutes later, we located a plastic bin behind the home in a wooded area, and we located little Joanna inside that plastic bin.”
The Greenville County Coroner’s Office investigated Joanna Lockaby’s death as suspicious, believing the girl died sometime Tuesday.
During the investigation, deputies arrested Hester, Joanna’s half-brother.
Investigators believe Hester suffocated the victim, contributing to her death.
Warrants stated that Hester put Lockaby inside a container from which she could not escape.
Hester is charged with kidnapping and murder.
“This is still a preliminary investigation, it is still very early to determine and we are still trying to uncover what led up to her death, what the motive was and a lot of that is going to be pending the autopsy,” said Lt. Flood.
After his arrest, Hester was taken to the Greenville County Detention Center. Deputies said he will be charged as an adult.
As the investigation continues, family and friends said they are trying to come to grips with their tragic loss.
“Joanna was just a bundle of joy. They called her doodle-bug,” said Michael Pick, Joanna and Micah’s Great-Uncle. “And Micah was just a smart young man and just trying to make his way as a teenager.”
“Everybody’s praying, I mean, the thought of it being a family member it is horrific,” said Rice. “For any of the family, all of them, you know, our prayers are with them. If there is anything any of us can do, you know, we’d be happy to help.”
The family told 7NEWS in an interview on Thursday that they are asking for patience as they grieve the loss of not only one family member, but two.
“We’ve not only lost Joanna, but now she’s losing another one to prison,” said Pick. “We don’t condone any type of violence like that. We’re not saying it’s right, but we don’t know what exactly happened and we would appreciate people letting us go through the grieving process.”
The Sheriff’s Office said this is still a very active investigation.
Joanna Lockaby’s autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.
According to the Greenville County coroner, Lockaby’s brother, Joe Avery James Lockaby, died in 2018 after investigators said he was left in a hot car by his grandmother.
Lockaby’s grandmother, Janik Nix, was later charged in his death.