NATCHITOCHES, La. — Kanika Johnson was driving home Tuesday night around 10:15 when she saw a fire near the railroad tracks on Breda Avenue, so she reported it.
When she woke Wednesday morning, she was horrified to learn what actually happened.
A 6-month-old boy was found at the scene, critically burned, when Natchitoches Fire Department firefighters arrived. The infant later was transferred to University Health in Shreveport, where he died.
"I just seen it on fire. I didn't see nobody or nothing," she said. "I just thought some kids might have set it on fire or something. I had called the police and told them to hurry up and send somebody to put the fire out before it spreads.
"And this morning I found out it was a baby."
The Natchitoches Police Department is investigating it as a homicide, saying that the boy was snatched from his mother at a trailer park about a mile-and-a-half away.
Johnson, 25, wondered what might have been on Wednesday afternoon. She said residents were told not to go to the site after it was reported to police, and she wondered if the story might be different if someone went there anyway.
"Maybe they could have saved the baby or something, you know?"
One woman who had stopped in her car to talk to Johnson left a warning as she drove off.
"Watch your step," she said. "Somebody's gonna retaliate."
Rumors swirled around town about what was behind the boy's death, but a police department spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that no new information was available.
The kidnapping was reported Tuesday around 9:10 p.m. The child's mother told officers that her son was taken by two people who knocked on her door at the Mayberry Trailer Park, according to a news release.
The trailer park is in the 5600 block of the La. Highway 1 Bypass, tucked away from the busy four-lane road by a thicket of trees.
She said she was sprayed in the face with what she believed to be Mace when she opened the door, the release states.
"She immediately fled the residence to get away from the attackers and, upon circling back, discovered the baby missing," it reads.
The department called for aid from the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's Office, Louisiana State Police and Northwestern State University Police Department to search for the infant.
But, just more than an hour later, the fire department got a call prompted by Johnson. Firefighters found the child with "obvious burns about his body," according to the release.
The boy was taken to Natchitoches Regional Medical Center in critical condition before he was transferred to Shreveport.
Early Wednesday afternoon, smoke could be seen rising from the site hidden behind the tracks on Breda Avenue. Investigators from the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office and fire department drove up in four sport-utility vehicles to examine the site.
Natchitoches firefighters arrived within minutes to take care of the smoldering fire.
Investigators walked the tracks around the scene, and a fire marshal's official launched a drone into the air. It hovered above the site for a few minutes.