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Missing Plymouth Baby Found Dead Wednesday Night, Three Being Charged With Child Neglect

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Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE
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The body of Mercedes Lain, the 11-month-old Plymouth baby reported missing Sunday by parents Tiffany Coburn and Kenneth Lain, was found Wednesday night in a heavily wooded area in Starke County.

According to court documents, Coburn and Lain told police on Aug. 15 that they had left the baby with family friend Justin Miller for a few days so they could have a break, but Miller did not return. A silver alert was issued that night, and a search began.

 

Miller was found without Mercedes at 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 16 at a Starke County residence and was taken into custody. He told police during an interview that he spoke to Lain on Aug. 12 about purchasing some synthetic marijuana, and they also discussed the rough time the couple was having with Mercedes.

 

Miller said he then offered to watch the baby for a few days and admitted to using synthetic marijuana in her presence.

 

During a Thursday morning press conference at the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department, Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman said that after changing his story several times, Miller said that on Saturday, he was sleeping at a house in Mishawaka and woke up to find the baby dead.

 

The 37-year-old led authorities to the body on Wednesday evening, which was found in a heavily forested area in Starke County near the intersection of County Roads 1025 East and 50 North.

 

“Everybody wanted to find Mercedes alive and healthy,” Chipman said. “We wanted it to turn out differently, it didn’t.”

 

Chipman said the time and location of death has not been determined yet, as they’re waiting for a pediatric specialist to perform an autopsy. 

 

Miller is being charged with a level one felony child neglect resulting in death. If convicted, he would face 20 to 40 years in prison.

 

Coburn and Lain were also arrested Monday. According to court documents, both were in contact with Miller through Facebook Messenger over the weekend, but they did not know his or Mercedes’ whereabouts.

 

Coburn also admitted to using methamphetamine and Lain was “found under the influence of an unknown substance” when he was arrested.

 

They are being charged with level six felony child neglect, which carries a sentence of up to two and a half years in jail.

 

An initial hearing in the case is expected on Friday.

 

Chipman said "there's no evidence whatsoever” that Coburn and Lain knew where Mercedes was or that she was dead. He also said additional drug charges are “the least of their worries."

 

Numerous law enforcement agencies were involved in the search, including the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team, Indiana State Police, Marshall County Sheriff, Plymouth Police Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

 

Chipman said 30 to 40 officers worked on the case.

 

“The resources that came to bear to go all over the three-county area — St. Joseph, Marshall and Starke — is absolutely astonishing,” Chipman said. “There’s no way a police department the size of Plymouth, 24 officers, could send out two-person teams to interview dozens of people and gather video from doorbells, for goodness’ sake.”

 

Plymouth police chief David Bacon said the outside agencies were “tremendous,” and that the community was also “very helpful.”

 

“I can’t say enough about what they’ve done,” Bacon said. "We've had that outpouring of support in trying to find Mercedes."

 

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

 

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.