The last time Teshauna Cooper saw her daughter Te’Myah, the 1-year-old was sleeping in their North Richmond home in September.
Cooper said she left the house because her boyfriend, Travis Plummer, sent her to the store to get a soda.
“All I know is she wasn’t there when I got back,” Cooper said in an interview Wednesday at her home in Richmond.
Cooper said Plummer told her he had sent their child to North Carolina to live with a friend’s grandmother, telling Cooper he did so because he didn’t think she could raise the girl herself and wanted to wait until “we got more situated here.”
“There were a lot of excuses,” she said.
About seven months later, Richmond police investigators came to tell Cooper that her only daughter had been found dead in New Jersey. Te’Myah’s body was found April 11 wrapped in a white cotton robe inside a suitcase that was inside a second suitcase under a bridge near some railroad tracks in Jersey City, authorities said.
“I was surprised, shocked,” Cooper said Wednesday morning, sitting on the steps of her apartment, arms crossed as if hugging herself. “I thought someone was taking care of her.”
Authorities arrested Plummer in Puerto Rico last week and charged him with desecrating human remains in connection with the discovery of Te’Myah’s body. He is awaiting extradition to New Jersey.
The authorities in New Jersey said they have been trying to determine the cause and manner of the child’s death. They also are trying to figure out when she died and where.
They have said they believe she died outside New Jersey, based on a preliminary investigation, but they aren’t saying any more than that.
After Plummer told Cooper he had sent their daughter to North Carolina, she said she was afraid to ask him too many questions about Te’Myah’s whereabouts, fearing he might hurt her.
“He wasn’t going to tell me nothing,” Cooper said. “If I asked too much, I probably would have been choked — I probably would have been dead.”
Plummer’s criminal history includes convictions for abduction of another woman and multiple child-neglect convictions, one of which stemmed from the accidental drowning death of his son in a bathtub in 2004.
Cooper said she now doesn’t believe that her daughter was ever sent to North Carolina. She wishes she could talk to Plummer and ask him some questions. “So I could know,” she said. “I don’t know a lot of stuff.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she added, “as long as he gets locked up forever.”
She also wants to plan a funeral for her daughter, but she doesn’t know when Te’Myah’s body will be brought back to Richmond.
“Is Te’Myah coming back here?” she asked. The body should be brought back to Richmond, she said, because she is from here.
Cooper said she met Plummer in June 2015 while she was walking along Chamberlayne Avenue in Richmond. She was homeless.
“He took me in,” she said.
She said that in 2016, she, Plummer and Te’Myah moved into a house on Third Avenue in Richmond with Plummer’s sister, her husband and her children. Cooper said she lived there for about a year.
Richmond police raided the house Aug. 16 as part of a drug investigation. According to an affidavit for a search warrant, police suspected that a man was selling marijuana out of the home and also was armed. The police seized items including marijuana, a scale, ammunition and cash from the home.
“They kicked in the door and had the guns on me and the baby,” recalled Cooper, referring to the police. She added that she and Te’Myah “were the only ones not in handcuffs.”
Richmond police declined to comment on the raid and repeated that they cannot answer any questions having to do with Te’Myah’s death because authorities in Hudson County, N.J., are leading the investigation.
No one answered a knock at the door of the Third Avenue home on Tuesday.
Cooper said that after Te’Myah disappeared, she moved with Plummer in late September or early October out of the house on Third Avenue and into a public housing apartment in Richmond, where he stayed with her for a couple of weeks.
Cooper alleged that sometime from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31, she and Plummer got into an argument and he punched her, leaving her with a swollen black eye, according to a criminal complaint for an emergency protective order.
According to the complaint, staff members of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority confirmed that they saw Cooper in their office with a severe black eye shortly after she moved into the apartment. Cooper also said she was afraid of Plummer and that he had assaulted her in the past.
“Victim stated that the offender was ‘removed’ from the address” on Oct. 31, the complaint says.
The criminal complaint led to an emergency protective order against Plummer forbidding him from having any contact with Cooper.
Cooper said Wednesday that she doesn’t know where Plummer went after that. She said he texted her that he was in Texas at one point, but she doesn’t believe that was true.
After Plummer was no longer around, Cooper reported Te’Myah missing to Richmond police in November, she said.
“I was scared to do it while he was there,” she said, explaining her decision to wait to report her daughter missing. “He was always up over my neck, over my shoulder, so I couldn’t do anything. That’s why it took so long.”
Richmond police announced on March 21 that Te’Myah and her father were missing and asked the public for help locating them. In a statement that day, the police said detectives “do not believe the two are in danger.”
“We would like to hear from whomever may be caring for Te’Myah Plummer, probably a family member,” Richmond police Sgt. Frank Scarpa was quoted as saying in the release. “We need to confirm that she is safe.”
The police statement said Te’Myah was last seen by Richmond-based family members in August. The statement added that Te’Myah and her father might have relocated to the Charlotte, N.C., area or, perhaps, Jersey City.
On Wednesday, Cooper said she is holding up as well as she can amid the tragedy and the many unanswered questions.
“I’m taking it strong,” she said. “I just want to get justice for her.”