The daughter of a pimp and a prostitute, Noelani Robinson was an innocent victim of the dark world she was born into.
Noelani’s heartbreaking story came to an end when the body of the 2-year-old was spotted Friday night by a passing motorist in a highway ditch outside Blooming Prairie, Minn., in rural Steele County, some 90 miles southeast of the Twin Cities.
Wrapped in a blanket, the child had been there for some time. According to the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, she died of blunt-force trauma to the head.
How she got into the ditch isn’t known. It was sometime after her father, Dariaz Higgins, allegedly shot and killed her mother, Sierra Robinson, on Monday in Milwaukee.
Higgins, 34, was arrested Wednesday and charged with first-degree homicide in the death of Robinson, 24. By then, Noelani was the subject of a national Amber Alert issued after her mother’s body was discovered.
Calling Higgins “a stone-cold killer,” police said he was actively involved in widespread human trafficking.
“That’s the world that these two individuals lived in,” Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said at a Saturday news conference announcing Noelani’s death. “They traveled throughout numerous states.”
Higgins “has ties all the way down to Miami, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada,” Morales said. “Kansas City. He’s been all over the place.”
According to the criminal complaint filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Robinson became pregnant while Higgins was her pimp. The couple stayed together after Noelani’s birth, but Robinson decided to end the relationship. She moved to Las Vegas last month, leaving the child in Milwaukee with Higgins.
Once she arrived in Las Vegas, however, she began trying to get her daughter back. On March 9, she flew to Milwaukee, staying with a friend identified as “L.P.”
Two days later, Higgins agreed to give her the child. Higgins picked up Robinson and her friend, and they drove around, drinking and smoking pot and “talking about old times,” according to the complaint.
Higgins brought them to an apartment building where he said Noelani was staying.
As Robinson and L.P. walked to the door, Higgins shot them both, according to the complaint. Robinson died of a gunshot wound to the chest. L.P. suffered several gunshot wounds but survived and was able to give a statement to the police.
Higgins was arrested two days later and refused to give credible information about Noelani’s whereabouts, police said.
A horrific discovery
About 6 p.m. Friday, a public employee was driving home along state Hwy. 218 near Blooming Prairie when he saw a strange-looking item in the ditch. He called police, and officers found the child, wrapped in a blanket.
“We believe this death did not occur within the last 24 hours. She had been there for quite some time, which is consistent with the suspect’s time when he was in that area in Minnesota,” Morales said. “That’s consistent where we believe we’re going with the investigation.”
Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Bruce Gordon said Saturday that the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is assisting Steele County sheriff’s deputies in the investigation. Milwaukee also has sent two detectives to assist, and the FBI is involved.
Early Saturday, BCA agents and crime scene investigators searched a hotel in Austin, Minn., where it is believed Higgins stayed with the girl at one point during the past week. Investigators are hopeful the hotel may have retained some video footage of her last steps.
Authorities aren’t yet sure where she was killed but believe it happened in Minnesota. Higgins already confessed to killing Robinson, police said, but they were expected to interview him again Saturday night to see whether he would confess to killing his child.
Meanwhile, family members are left to mourn.
Noelani’s grandmother, Latosha Bryant, said the girl was “just so joyful.”
Bryant said her daughter, Robinson, wanted to have a relationship with Noelani’s father.
“She said, ‘Mom, he wants us to come out there,’ ” Bryant told WTMJ-TV. “I said, ‘Nah, I got a bad feeling about this, baby.’ ”