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Hints of abuse pre-dated 10-year-old's murder by starvation

Eman Moss

Eman Moss

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Tiffany Moss

LAWRENCEVILLE — Nine years after fighting for — and winning — sole custody of his daughter, police believe Eman Moss starved her to death, put her body in a trash can and set it on fire.

At about 3:45 a.m. Saturday, Moss called 911 from his apartment on Lawrenceville’s Veranda Chase Drive and told the operator he wanted to commit suicide. He then said his 10-year-old daughter, Emani, had “drank some type of chemical and was deceased.”

When Gwinnett County police arrived, they found a badly burned body tucked into a trash can near the apartment complex’s community recreation area. The girl’s father and stepmother, Tiffany Moss, were arrested and charged with felony murder, first-degree cruelty to children and concealing a body.

According to documents obtained Monday, Emani Moss was starved to death. The burns, the trash can, the fictional chemical cocktail — all were alleged attempts to cover that up.

“The defendant denied the victim enough food to live,” warrants for both suspects said, in part.

“The victim appeared extremely emaciated and skinny,” Gwinnett County police Det. Colin Flynn said, “and … through our investigation we were able to determine that she was not fed regularly.”

Authorities believe Emani Moss may have died as early as last Wednesday, Oct. 29.

The warning signs began piling up long before that.

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More than 10 years ago, Eman Moss began dating Danita Leaks. Their young relationship was a happy one, the latter said, until she got pregnant.

“When we first started dating, he wasn’t like this,” Leaks said. “He was a very nice guy.”

Leaks said they began “arguing and fighting all the time” after she got pregnant with Emani. By 2004, Moss had filed paperwork seeking sole custody of the child, then barely a year old.

He eventually won, despite Leaks’ formal complaints.

“Eman is a very violent person and demonstrates physical violence when he can’t get his way with me in that he will argue, rant, rave and cause physical harm to my person when enraged,” Leaks wrote in a letter to the magistrate judge overseeing the case.

In April 2004, Moss was arrested and charged with battery and second-degree cruelty to children, the result of an alleged physical attack against her while children, including Emani, watched.

Leaks also contended that Moss and his mother would keep Emani for “long periods of time” and refuse to give her back. Leaks hadn’t seen Emani for about six years when she got word Saturday that her child was dead — she sought out a newspaper for confirmation and information.

“The last time I let him see her,” Leaks said, “he just kept her.”

She signed away her rights as a parent on April 11, 2005.

“I thought they loved her,” she said. “I didn’t know they were doing this to my baby … I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

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A bad report card led authorities to the first possible precursor to Emani’s death.

On March 19, 2010, a 6-year-old Emani told a counselor at Lawrenceville’s Cooper Elementary that she was afraid to go home. She had “several unsatisfactory marks” on her grade report.

“She was scared to go home because she was afraid of what her parents would do to her,” a Gwinnett County police report said.

Emani reportedly told the counselor that her parents — and mostly her stepmother, Tiffany Moss — spanked her with a belt when she was bad. A school nurse soon uncovered welts, scabs and other marks on “most of” the youngster’s body, according to police.

A representative from the Department of Family and Children Services responded to the scene as well.

“The victim had severe bruising and welts on her chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs,” the incident report said.

Tiffany Moss was questioned and allegedly confessed to hitting Emani with a belt “only three times.” She was arrested and charged with a single count of first-degree cruelty to children.

Online records show Tiffany Moss bonded out of jail 12 days after her arrest. No files regarding further adjudication of the case could be found in Gwinnett County court records, but police spokesman Edwin Ritter said it was his understanding that Moss had been convicted.

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More than two years later on July 2, 2012, Emani Moss said she wanted to run away.

At about 5:35 p.m. that day, she was found at the leasing office of her family’s Duluth apartment complex.

“The victim said she wanted to run away because she did not like living at home anymore,” a report filed by Gwinnett County police said. Emani told police that, a week earlier, she had been “tied to a chair with two of her belts and placed under a cold shower” by her stepmother.

Tiffany Moss responded to the scene and denied the allegation, instead saying that Emani had tried to run away the night before because she wanted to stay at a friend’s house.

Moss reportedly told police that “she thought (Emani) was competing for her father’s attention and was resentful of her little brother and soon to be born sister.”

The responding police officer said he did not find any injuries consistent with Emani’s claims. No arrest was made.

Late in the evening on July 25, 2012, Emani actually ran away. Less than an hour into the next day, she was arrested as a runaway juvenile and given a curfew violation.

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When Eman Moss called police Saturday, he first said he wanted to kill himself. When authorities arrived, though, he led them directly to his daughter’s charred body.

“I think the intentions of the call were just to get police over there,” Ritter said.

Officials were unsure Monday when anyone other than Emani’s parents had last seen her alive. The 10-year-old grew up in Gwinnett County schools but authorities believe she was being homeschooled this year.

Emani’s brother and sister — both toddlers under the age of 3 — were taken into DFCS custody over the weekend. Flynn, the GCPD detective, said there was no evidence showing they had been abused “in any way.”

The investigation into all aspects of the case, though, remains very active. Ritter said the department was working to hold “everybody” accountable for their alleged roles in Emani’s death.

The young girl’s biological mother, meanwhile, said she was coping the best she could. Leaks said she was never informed there had been any type of DFCS involvement involving Emani.

“I thought everything was fine over there,” she said.