IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Florida toddler drama captivates the public

What's captivated us are the photos — the toddler's fawnlike eyes and chubby cheeks resting in her hands.
Image: Caylee Marie Anthony
Caylee Marie Anthony, 2, has been missing for more than a month. Her mother, Casey Marie Anthony, has been arrested for alleged child neglect and providing false information to law enforcement.AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

What's captivated us are the photos — the toddler's fawnlike eyes and chubby cheeks resting in her hands.

Yet we're also taken with the darker side: A young mother who waited 31 days to report the girl missing and then, detectives say, lied about crucial details.

Although the story is hashed out before a national audience nearly every day — Caylee Anthony's grandparents are staples on network TV — there's little new evidence.

"We know that time is the enemy in these cases," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "With Caylee, we're trying very hard to keep hope alive."

Caylee, who was reported missing July 15, has seemingly vanished. Detectives and family members hope she will be home by Saturday, her third birthday.

Late Wednesday, detectives carried four bags of evidence out of the Anthony family home but would not say what was inside. A dive team was to scour lakes and retention ponds Friday, although officials say the searches are part of routine monthly training.

Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, is being held on $500,000 bond, charged with just a third-degree felony, child neglect, and one misdemeanor count of filing a false police report.

Anger, frustration
In Orlando, people are frustrated Caylee hasn't been found and angry at how her mother has conducted herself in court hearings and on taped jail calls.

Radio talk show hosts call for Anthony's execution — never mind that she hasn't been charged in the girl's disappearance. Visitors to Internet sites say Anthony should be taken out of her solitary jail cell so other inmates can "give her a good beat-down."

"She's got something to do with it," said 28-year-old Jeff Sutton, who was standing outside the jail this week watching a dozen TV cameras prepare for the arrival of Casey Anthony's mother. "I see (Anthony) as mean, disrespectful, a child abuser. And selfish."

Anthony's attorney, Jose Baez, describes his client's accusers as a "lynch mob."

"Out the window went the presumption of innocence and a right to a fair trial," he said.

Anthony gave birth to Caylee on Aug. 9, 2005, when she was 19. She declined to put the father's name on the birth certificate.

About a year later, he died in a car crash and was buried out of state. Casey Anthony did not attend the funeral, said her brother, Lee Anthony. Family members say he never knew he was the father.

Mother and baby lived in Casey Anthony's childhood home east of Walt Disney World in suburban Orlando, in an ivory-colored ranch flanked by two palm trees with a basketball hoop in the driveway. By all accounts, Cindy and George Anthony were more like parents than grandparents to Caylee, who loved SpongeBob, swimming and her miniature tea set.

And while Casey Anthony had several boyfriends and worked sporadically as a product promotion representative in bars, clubs and restaurants, she was a good mother, friends and family say.

A high school dropout, she had no criminal record. Officials at Florida's child welfare agency said they were never called about possible abuse or neglect in the Anthony home.

Lee Anthony said Casey left town with Caylee on June 16 for work and vacation. Almost five weeks later, on July 24, Cindy Anthony dialed 911.

FBI testing mother's car
"I found out my granddaughter has been taken, she has been missing for a month, we're talking about a 3-year-old little girl ... I need to find her," a frantic Cindy Anthony said. "I found my daughter's car today and it smells like there's a dead body in the damn car."

Cindy Anthony said she hadn't seen the girl since mid-June. The dispatcher asked to speak to Casey Anthony.

"Why are you calling now?" the dispatcher asked. "Why didn't you call 31 days ago?"

Her reply: "I've been looking for her and gone through other resources to find her. Which was stupid."

Casey Anthony told Orange County sheriff's deputies she left her child in an apartment June 9 with a nanny.

But investigators say the apartment had been empty for several months.

Other troubling details emerged: A neighbor told detectives Anthony had asked to borrow a shovel some time in June. Her father said she had stolen two gas cans from the garage and refused to let him get something from the trunk of her car. A boyfriend said she never told him in June that Caylee was missing.

Cadaver-sniffing dogs detected a scent in Casey's car, and hair, dirt and a strange stain were found in the trunk. Investigators are still awaiting FBI tests on evidence from the car.

Detectives are amazed Casey has kept her composure under questioning, never crying or showing emotion.

"Her demeanor has been, for lack of a better word, nonchalant," says Deputy Chief Carlos Padilla. "She's shown no remorse, no concern."

On the night she was arrested, a family friend asked, in a recorded jail call: "How come everybody's saying that you're not upset, that you're not crying, that you showed no emotion, no caring of where Caylee is at all?"

"Because I'm not sitting here f------ crying every two seconds. Because I have to stay composed to talk to detectives, to make other phone calls, to do other things. I can't sit here and be crying every two seconds like I want to. I can't."

Baez said his client is innocent and "has a very compelling reason for her actions and we will present them at the proper time and place."

Meanwhile, Anthony's parents and brother still hope Caylee will be home for her birthday.

"That's what we'd love to see happen," Lee Anthony said.