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Baby's death in Socastee Creek ruled homicide

Photo provided by Horry County police of 5-month-old Grace, whose body was found the afternoon of Nov. 5 in a Socastee creek.
Photo provided by Horry County police of 5-month-old Grace, whose body was found the afternoon of Nov. 5 in a Socastee creek.
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An autopsy performed Friday a 5-month-old baby who went missing this week in Horry County showed that the mann er of death is homicide, according to Horry County Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler.

The cause of death is still under investigation. The autopsy was performed at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The body of the missing baby Grace was found Thursday around 3:45 p.m., according to Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes.

Rhodes said the baby was found close to the house where the baby's mother, Sarah Toney, said she lost her in the waters.

"She was located in the creek that her mother indicated that she was in. The divers from the Department of Natural Resources along with public works were able to locate her," Rhodes said.

Rhodes said that though the baby was found dead "I believe all of us have a sense of peace in knowing that we can lay her to rest properly."

Crew members who helped search for the baby formed a prayer circle after Rhodes' news conference.

The charges against Toney are expected to be upgraded from unlawful conduct toward a child, Rhodes said. She said police will confer with the solicitor's office to determine what charges are appropriate.

Rhodes said she could not say if the baby suffered any other trauma or if she drowned. She said an autopsy will be conducted soon, probably tomorrow morning.

Rhodes said the removal of a large tree from the creek earlier today helped crews locate Grace.

Earlier Thursday, bond was denied for Toney by Horry County Magistrate Judge Aaron Butler.

Toney was charged with unlawful conduct toward a child as a result of her actions that led to Grace being lost in a Socastee creek, according to Lt. Raul Denis with Horry County police.

During the hearing, Toney said she had gone in to the water with her daughter, but couldn't hold on to her.

Horry County Solicitor Scott Hixson asked the judge to deny bond because of her criminal past and because they believed she was a flight risk.

Through a SLED background check, we found that Toney has a long list of charges including criminal domestic violence, drug charges, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, shoplifting, giving false information, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and malicious damage to property.

The majority are misdemeanor charges, with a few felony charges.

Her record dates back to 2008.

She is currently on probation for one of her more recent convictions of shoplifting and a misdemeanor drug charge.

During the hearing Thursday morning, Toney appeared restless while waiting for the judge.

After the hearing had to be told to stay in her seat several times while waiting in a nearby room. She stood and appeared to try and hide from camera crews after the hearing a few times, and held her hands to her face several times, rubbing her eyes.

The search for Grace started at around 10 a.m. on Tuesday after police got a call from a homeowner on Shem Creek Circle who said she found a woman on her back porch who told her she went in to the river with her baby, but the woman no longer had a baby with her, Denis said.

Denis said an investigation revealed that "circumstances unfolded at a residence on Simms Drive, about 1/4 mile from that Shem Creek Circle location, in which the woman ultimately lost her baby in the rushing creek behind the residence."

Toney, 33, of Myrtle Beach, was initially arrested on an outstanding, unrelated, warrant and detained, according to Lt. Denis. On Wednesday, she was charged with unlawful conduct toward a child.

It was revealed during the hearing Thursday morning that Toney does not have custody of her other daughter.

A preliminary hearing for the unlawful conduct to a child charge is set to take place on this case on Dec. 11 at 1 p.m.

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We will continue to bring you updates on this as more information comes in.

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