HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A 36-year-old man living in Montana with a teenager who mysteriously disappeared from Arizona four years ago has been charged with two felony counts of child sexual abuse based on images found on his phone, authorities said Tuesday.
Edmund Davis was arrested Monday in Chinook, Montana, and was being held in the Hill County Detention Center on a $1 million bond.
It was unknown if Davis is considered a suspect in the disappearance of Alicia Navarro. Authorities in Montana referred questions to law enforcement in Arizona, who said the investigation into the teenager's disappearance is ongoing.
The announcement of the criminal charges by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen ends months of silence by authorities about Navarro's case. But key questions remain unanswered, including how and when the teenager ended up in far northern Montana — nearly 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers) from her childhood home in Glendale, Arizona — and whether Davis played a part in her disappearance.
Navarro left a note behind when she disappeared from her home days before her 15th birthday, sparking a massive search that included the FBI. She was almost 19 when she walked into the Havre, Montana, police station in July and said she wanted to be removed from the missing persons list.
Over the years, Navarro’s mother, Jessica Nuñez, said that her daughter, who was diagnosed with autism, may have been lured away by someone she met online. When she disappeared in 2019, Navarro took only her laptop and cell phone.
Davis has not yet appeared in court on the charges and no hearings have been scheduled, court officials said. He made an initial appearance in Justice Court in Blaine County, said Kyler Nerison, a spokesman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen.
Davis did not have an attorney on record and calls to telephone numbers listed under his name went unanswered. He's charged with child sexual abuse, which can result in life in prison, and knowingly possessing electronic images of a child or children under 12 engaged in sexual conduct, which carries a 100-year prison sentence.
In July Davis was detained and questioned by law enforcement agents who also searched the Montana apartment that he had been living in with Navarro, according to neighbors and authorities. During that search, officers saw Davis throw his cellphone into a trashcan and place items on top of it as if to hide it, according to a law enforcement affidavit.
Dozens of images of suspected child sex abuse were found on Davis’ phone, the affidavit said. The charges describe the images as involving prepubescent girls, infants and toddlers.
Police provided no details at the time about Davis, but neighbors said he’d been living with Navarro for at least a year. An Associated Press reporter spoke with a young woman at the Havre apartment who looked and sounded like Navarro but she didn’t give her name and said she wanted to be left alone.
The couple moved out of the apartment days after Navarro's whereabouts were revealed by media reports, according to neighbors.
Davis' mother, Cora Davis, said Tuesday that she did not know where her son has been living recently or details about Navarro.
The Glendale Police Department on Tuesday declined to answer questions on the investigation into Navarro’s disappearance, including what additional information authorities had gathered during the residence search in Havre and in follow-up interviews.
Authorities in July said it was up to Navarro whether to return home since she was 18 years old and legally an adult.
Trent Steele, a private investigator who assisted Nuñez in the search for Navarro through the Miami-based nonprofit Anti-Predator Project, said investigators continue to look at the circumstances of the teenager's disappearance.
More charges in the case are possible, Steele said, adding that Navarro was “in a safe place” without disclosing the particulars.
“The decision was to charge him with the most obvious crimes, the most serious crimes and the ones that we can probably make stick without having to retraumatize anybody,” he said.
In the year's after her daughter's disappearance, Nuñez paid for a billboard ad in Mexico that featured a photo of her daughter and bought 10 more ads in Las Vegas. She also spoke at events and gave media interviews to raise awareness about missing people.
Authorities in 2019 collected security footage from around the family’s neighborhood, and tried to track Navarro's phone and laptop. They followed up on dozens of reports of possible sightings of the missing teenager around her Arizona town that came up empty.
Associated Press reporters Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and Rio Yamat in Las Vegas contributed to this story.