The body of Mercedes Lain, an 11-month-old girl whose parents left her with a family friend days earlier so they “could have a break,” was found Wednesday deep in the woods of rural Indiana.
But although police say they don’t have any evidence that the mother and father were directly involved in their daughter’s death, the child’s extended family had recently been trying to convince authorities to take her from them for her own safety, her devastated grandmother told The Daily Beast.
Kenneth Robert Lain, 41, and Tiffany Jo Coburn, 32, Mercedes Lain’s parents, stand charged with neglect of a dependent, according to Marshall County Superior Court records. Babysitter Justin Lee Miller, a 37-year-old man described as a “family relative” in court filings but whose exact relationship to Lain and Coburn remains unclear, is expected to be charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death. A cause of death has not been determined, and additional charges may be filed based on the autopsy results.
The investigation began on Sunday, Aug. 15, when police were called to the Economy Inn by Lain and Coburn, according to a probable cause affidavit filed by the Plymouth, Indiana Police Department. Mercedes was missing, the couple told the responding officer, Stuart Krynock. They told Krynock that they had left Mercedes with Miller on Friday, and that he was supposed to bring her back to them the next day, the affidavit explains.
“Both parents attempted to get a hold of Miller numerous times and could not contact him,” the affidavit says. “They finally contacted him on Sunday, and Miller advised that he had dropped [Mercedes] off with a neighbor since Lain and Coburn weren’t home. No one has seen [Mercedes] since.”
A missing persons “silver alert” was issued by authorities, and the FBI was called in. Krynock and Plymouth Police Chief David Bacon did not respond to requests for comment.
Cops eventually tracked down Miller at a friend’s house—without Mercedes—at around 3:30 a.m. Monday morning. In an interview at the police station, Miller claimed Lain had contacted him the previous Thursday “about buying some synthetic marijuana.” The conversation then turned to “the rough time [Lain and Coburn] were having with [Mercedes],” states the affidavit. “Miller advised he told them that he would watch her for a few days so they could have a break.”
But Miller’s story kept changing, cops said. At first he claimed to have taken Mercedes to McDonald’s, then to his buddy’s place for a few days. Then Miller said he had actually gone to his girlfriend’s house, but was kicked out on Saturday, which is when he went to stay with his friend. Along the way, Miller told investigators, he dropped Mercedes off at the Economy Inn with a “heavy set white female” he said he had seen previously in Lain and Coburn’s room. (Police soon discovered this to be untrue, Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman said at a news conference after the trio was arrested.)
Miller’s friend told cops that Miller had first shown up at his home on Friday, Aug. 13 “for a while and then left and came back on Sunday the 15th, without the child,” the affidavit states.
Both Lain and Coburn were “uncooperative in looking for their child,” and weren’t returning calls, according to the affidavit. On Monday morning, police finally got Coburn on the phone. She promised to come into the station to speak with investigators about her missing daughter, but said she was waiting for a ride from her sister. Two-and-a-half hours later, Coburn still hadn’t shown up and her phone was turned off. Police called Coburn’s sister, who said she hadn’t heard from Coburn.
At 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 16, officers located Coburn, who has three other daughters, and arrested her outside the Economy Inn. Lain was not with her, and Coburn claimed she didn’t know where he was. In an interview with police, Coburn allegedly confessed that she and Lain had been communicating with Miller via Facebook Messenger during the time Mercedes was missing. Lain was arrested at the Economy Inn at 6:30 that evening, “found under the influence of an unknown substance.” He also reportedly admitted to having been in touch with Miller throughout the weekend, but said he “didn’t know where he was.”
Two days later, Mercedes’ remains were found.
Reached by phone, Angie Owens, Coburn’s mother, sounded both disconsolate and infuriated about her granddaughter’s fate, saying that she refuses to “protect” Lain and Coburn even though they’re family.
“They are definitely not good parents,” Owens told The Daily Beast. “They didn’t need to have a child.”
“We tried everything in our power to get this baby taken away from them,” Owens continued. “We have called [child protective services] many times. There's nothing more that we could have done than what we did. We have gone beyond our power in doing what we could to help this baby.”
Lain was convicted in 2016 of neglect of a dependent, and sentenced to two years in prison (with one year suspended). A couple of years earlier, Lain had been charged for non-payment of child support. They both have records, which are littered with various misdemeanor and felony drug offenses, along with low-level violations for driving with a suspended license, and small claims filings for non-payment of debts.
Owens said she holds Lain and Coburn responsible for Mercedes’ death “by giving the child to him,” meaning Miller, but, “As far as them being involved in the murder part, we don’t believe they were involved in that,” adding the caveat that murder charges have not been laid.
“We aren’t saying they were good parents, because they weren't,” Owens again emphasized. “We are grieving so bad throughout this time.”
A family friend has set up a donation page for funeral expenses, and Owens said donations can also be made to the Knox United Methodist Church in Knox, Indiana.
In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said, “We want to offer our sincere condolences on behalf of the FBI to Mercedes' family for their loss. Everyone worked tirelessly to locate Mercedes with the hope of bringing her home safely. Sadly, that was not the case, but we will continue to do all we can to ensure justice for Mercedes.”
Lawyers for Lain and Coburn did not respond to messages left seeking comment. Miller’s charges were not yet posted to the public court docket as of this writing, and The Daily Beast was unable to determine if he had an attorney representing him.
Lain and Coburn are due back in court on Sept. 15.