After two days of searching, Baltimore police said Friday that they had found the body of 20-year-old Tonja Deshaun Chadwick in a Southwest Baltimore park. They said they were looking for her boyfriend as a "person of interest" in her killing.
"This is officially a murder investigation," said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman.
Chadwick, an aspiring nurse and mother of a 4-year-old son, was last seen Saturday when she left her aunt's house in Belair-Edison in Northeast Baltimore. Her traumatized body was discovered across town late Thursday, under debris in a wooded area known as Daisy Field.
Smith said Chadwick was killed in her apartment not far from her aunt's house before her killer "committed the equally disgusting act of discarding her body" where she was found. "It's an absolutely repulsive act with little regard for human life," he said.
Chadwick's boyfriend, Marco Jamal Holmes, 22, who police believe was one of the last people to see her, is missing, Smith said. He has not been charged in the case but police want to talk to him about it, Smith said.
"We don't have any solid leads on Holmes," Smith said, "so we're asking the public to help us out."
Smith declined to describe the trauma Chadwick suffered. He said police first knew her disappearance was cause for concern after searching her apartment Tuesday and finding blood and other "evidence that was consistent with a crime scene."
Chadwick's family began to process the news Friday afternoon, after holding out hope that she might still return home alive.
"It feels like a nightmare," said Latanya Chadwick, the aunt. "We don't know how to adjust."
She said her niece had lived with her on and off after her mother moved to the Eastern Shore several years ago — and moved out only last week to move in with Holmes.
Chadwick said Tonja became pregnant at 16 but managed to graduate from Frederick Douglass High two years later. She previously worked at the Shake Shack restaurant at the Inner Harbor, and completed a program in August to become a geriatric nursing assistant. She enjoyed working with the elderly patients, and she planned to go to nursing school, her aunt said.
She described her niece as a loving and devoted mother. Relatives knew something was wrong because it was highly unusual for Tonja not to respond to phone calls or texts from family. On Sunday, after Holmes told her Tonja had not returned to their Parkside Garden apartment, she tried calling her niece all day.
On Monday, a maintenance employee at a nearby apartment complex answered the call. He had found Tonja's iPhone in the grass. Chadwick said she then reported her niece missing to police.
A massive search operation was launched — including detectives, cadaver dogs and cadets searching parks after the Police Department received tips. Late Thursday, they received a tip about Daisy Field and immediately responded there, he said. The location is near Hilton Parkway and North Monastery Avenue near the Allendale neighborhood.
"They went out on foot into this rugged terrain ... down several embankments, in the pitch black, and were able to find Tonja underneath some debris," Smith said.
Police have not been able to locate Holmes. They described his vehicle as a blue 2004 four-door Infiniti G35 with the Maryland tags 9CS0691.
Smith said police had once before responded to a call about an argument between Holmes and Chadwick.
Holmes, who could not be reached for comment, has been in trouble in the past.
On Thursday, a city judged signed no-bail warrant charging Holmes with violating his probation in a 2014 armed robbery case.
In that case, a man told police that he had been playing video games with Holmes when Holmes walked out to smoke. When he returned, he left the door open behind him and two other men entered the home and announced a robbery. One of them had a silver revolver, which he handed to Holmes, the victim said.
After the victim tried to wrestle away the gun, he told police Holmes struck him multiple times in the head. "If you snitch, I will kill your whole family," Holmes allegedly said as he left with the man's sneakers, video game consoles, wallet and cellphone.
Holmes pleaded guilty in March 2015, receiving a sentence of 20 years with 18 of those years suspended. He was released from prison in May.
The probation violation warrant signed this week said Holmes had failed to comply with the terms of his probation, such as making attempts to obtain employment or enroll in educational programs. He also moved without notifying officials. The warrant was obtained after police began probing Chadwick's disappearance.
According to court records, Holmes previously lived in the 700 block of Edgewood St., a few blocks from Daisy Park.
Tonja's death is especially painful for Latanya Chadwick, who lost her 16-year-old son, Daqwon Artis, four years ago to violence.
He was fatally shot in the 2200 block of Barclay St. No one was ever charged in his death. She said her son and her niece were close until his death.
As family again gathered at her home Friday afternoon, she said, "it's like I am going through a nightmare all over again."
Anyone with information about the case or Holmes' whereabouts is asked to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100 or text a tip to 443-902-4824.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.