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3 Children Vanished from Grandmother's House 1 by 1 — and Then 8-Year-Old Girl Turned up Dead

Antonia 03/08/2021

Connie Smith was not a typical grandmother.

At just 54, she wore her chestnut hair long, loved to watch reality TV and was known around town for her tough-talking persona. But when her former daughter-in-law began struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, Smith took her three children — Tristan Sexton, 16; Taylor Summers, 14; and Taryn Summers, 8 — into her four-bedroom home in Emmett, Idaho.

 Taryn (left) and grandma Connie Smith (right)

Tristan Sexton, 17 (left), and Taylor Summers, 14 (right), ran away from home in Emmett, Idaho, within a month of one another in the fall of 2020. Both are believed to be fine, according to local authorities

"She talked about those children with pride," a family acquaintance tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I didn't think anything was wrong."

Tristan, 16, ran away in September 2020. Taylor, 14, disappeared the following month. Both Tristan and Taylor took refuge at a relative's home. The two teens had lived in the same house as 8-year-old Taryn Summers, who was reported as a runaway by her grandmother on April 12.

When police arrived at Smith's home, they discovered that part of the carpet in the girl's bedroom was missing. Smith allegedly told them she had removed and burned the rug because the girl had defecated on it.

After a search of the surrounding area, forensic crews returned to the home on April 14. They allegedly found a spot of blood on Taryn's wall.

According to court documents, authorities then discovered Taryn's body in a black plastic garbage bag on the floor of the back seat of a black Lexus. Investigators said that the little girl was covered with vomit.

This map shows the area near Airport Road and Highway 52 in Emmett where all three children had gone missing between September 2020 and April 12, 2021 

Smith was arrested and initially charged with first-degree murder, but is now instead charged with felony failure to notify a death and felony destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence. Police say that more charges may be forthcoming after an autopsy on Taryn is completed.

Smith is being held on $800,000 bond. She has waived her right to a speedy preliminary hearing, and will appear in court again on August 3.

She has not yet entered a plea, and her attorney did not immediately return PEOPLE's call for comment.

As the case progresses against Smith, those who thought they knew her are shocked at the little girl's death. "She was just as innocent as a little child could be," a former neighbor tells PEOPLE in its latest issue. "I pictured her running away with her little pink backpack and thought she'd be home for dinner. I guess I was wrong."

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