Episode 069: Leila Cavett

February 20, 2023

A small boy found wandering alone in a parking lot sparks a multi-state search for a missing mother. Where is Leila Cavett?

Episode Media
Leila Cavett (FBI)
Image of Kamdyn released after he was found on July 26, 2020 (Miramar PD)
Leila Cavett with son Kamdyn (Miramar PD)
Last known image of Leila at the RaceTrac on July 25, 2020 (FBI)
Shannon Demar Ryan (Broward County)
Image from Shannon Ryan’s August 9 video (Facebook)
Important locations in Leila’s case (Google Maps)
Federal agents search a landfill in Pompano Beach, FL in October 2021 (Sky10)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you the case of a young mother who disappeared 700 miles from home. It’s a story with many twists and turns on the road to justice. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 26, 2020, Ebony Williams was pulling into the parking lot of the Edge Apartments in Miramar, Florida, where she was visiting friends, when suddenly something caught her eye: a small boy, barefoot and wearing only a t-shirt and diaper, all alone.

Alarmed, Ebony approached the toddler. “When I got out of the car, I heard the baby crying, so I walked over, and I realized that he was by himself. I asked him, ‘Where’s your mommy?’ And he pointed kind of like everywhere.”

Ebony scooped up the little boy and began searching the area, assuming she would hear someone calling his name. A mother herself, Ebony knew she would be frantically looking for her own child in that situation. But there was no one around; it really did seem as though the boy was alone.

Ebony began knocking on doors in the apartment complex, hoping that someone would recognize him or know his mother. She managed to find a woman who offered to change the boy’s diaper, but no one seemed to know where he had come from or who he belonged to. Realizing that something was very wrong, the two women called the police.

Officers from the Miramar Police Department responded to the scene. The little boy seemed upset but was otherwise unharmed. Unfortunately, there was no explanation for how he had ended up wandering the streets alone. He wasn’t able to tell the officers his name or how old he was; he just babbled in baby talk.

Back at the station, officers cleaned the boy up and gave him toys to play with while they began searching for his family. They reached out to other jurisdictions to see if he had been reported missing, but he didn’t match the description of any current missing children. They released a picture of him on social media, and over the following thirty-six hours, the image of his adorable face and golden curls was shared thousands of times across the internet. It eventually reached Gina Lewis in Jasper, Alabama. She knew right away who that little boy was – her 2-year-old nephew Kamdyn. But why was he in Florida, and where was Leila?

Gina called the Miramar Police Department and told them everything she knew. Her sister, 21-year-old Leila Cavett, lived in Dawsonville, Georgia, about an hour north of Atlanta, with her son Kamdyn. Although the rest of her family lived four hours away in Alabama, Leila seemed to be happy in Georgia, where she worked at Dunkin’ to support her son. She hadn’t mentioned anything to her family about traveling to Florida, where she didn’t know anyone. And it seemed unlikely that she would take an impromptu vacation with a toddler in the middle of a global pandemic.

Gina told 7News that while Leila could be impulsive, “she would not leave Kamdyn in those conditions.” Her son was everything to her; the fact that he was left wandering alone in a parking lot was an indication that something bad had happened.

While Leila’s family made the 12-hour drive from Jasper, Alabama, to Miramar, Florida, 2-year-old Kamdyn was placed in foster care with the Florida Department of Children and Families, and the Miramar Police Department continued to search for Leila. In a Facebook post, the department stated that they were, “gravely concerned for her safety and well being.” They released new images of Leila along with her white Chevy truck, which the family believed she would have been driving. The truck was distinctive – a mid-90s model with a red tailgate and a “Baby on Board” sign in the passenger window. Investigators hoped that someone would spot it and call it in.

Three days later, on July 29th, law enforcement announced that they had found the truck in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart just two miles away from the apartment complex where Kamdyn had been found. Because the Wal-Mart was in a different jurisdiction, the Miramar PD was now collaborating with the Hollywood Police Department. In a statement to the press, the Hollywood PD revealed that a witness had recalled seeing Leila near Hollywood Boulevard and Highway 441, which led investigators to the Wal-Mart. But although they found the truck, there was no trace of Leila. Because of this, she was officially named a missing person.

By this point, Leila’s family members had arrived in Florida and were actively working with investigators. They provided new pictures of Leila, including images of her tattoos, hoping that it would help find her. They hung flyers around the area and talked to the media to get her story into the public eye. Her father Curtis told NBC6, “I want to let her know, ‘listen, I love you. I’m here on the ground, me and my team are here searching for you.’ We’re not gonna stop until we get some answers or justice. We want people to be vigilant of their surroundings.”

The family also hired a lawyer to help them get custody of Kamdyn, who was still in foster care. Kamdyn’s biological father was also seeking custody, and the whole process was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the state assured Leila’s family that Kamdyn was being well cared for and would be reunited with them soon.

Meanwhile, the investigation was in full swing. The FBI was called in to provide assistance to local law enforcement, and they started to put together a timeline of Leila’s last known movements. According to the family, Leila FaceTimed her sister on July 17th, and everything seemed fine. She texted off and on until July 23rd, then only communicated through social media for a few days after that. On July 26th, the same day Kamdyn was found, Leila’s grandmother said that she messaged Leila on Facebook and received a “thumbs up” in return. Now, investigators wondered if that came from Leila or from someone else who may have had her phone.

With the help of Leila’s family, investigators began to dig into her social media accounts, where they found some interesting activity. In the days before her disappearance, Leila had asked several people for money, including her uncle and Kamdyn’s father. She had also been selling items on Facebook marketplace, including some expensive headphones and her Toyota Corolla. Investigators believe that Leila sold the Corolla and used that money to purchase the white truck that she later drove to Florida.

In one of the marketplace posts, Leila included a screenshot that showed her phone’s web browser, and one of the open tabs was an online dating site. Had Leila met someone online, perhaps someone in Florida?

Leila’s father Curtis believed the answer was yes. He told NBC6 that they had found a message on Leila’s phone from a man asking her to come to Florida for the weekend. Curtis even said that he had reached out to the man himself, hoping to get information about Leila’s plans. It was a new lead for investigators to follow.

At a news conference on August 13th, Special Agent George Piro told reporters, “We believe that some people who are familiar with the circumstances surrounding Leila’s disappearance remain in our community, while some have left the area… We’re investigating every possibility as to why Leila went missing. Additionally, along with our other law enforcement partners, we are aggressively pursuing a large number of leads to reunite Kamdyn and Leila.”

The FBI also released new images of Leila captured on surveillance cameras in the days leading up to her disappearance. On the night of July 24th, Leila and Kamdyn were seen at a Cracker Barrel in Vero Beach, Florida, about nine hours south of her home in Dawsonville. No one else was with them.

On July 25th, Leila and Kamdyn were seen multiple times at a RaceTrac gas station in Hollywood, right next to the Wal-Mart where her truck was later found. The FBI released video footage of the truck entering the gas station parking lot, as well as footage of Leila later getting out of a Lexus sedan and entering the convenience store. They didn’t offer much explanation for Leila’s activities, but they asked anyone with information to call the tip line.

Of course, the FBI didn’t release everything they had to the public. Behind the scenes, investigators were gathering evidence and building their case, and three days later, a man was in custody.

On August 16th, federal agents arrested 38-year-old Shannon Demar Ryan and charged him with kidnapping and lying to a federal officer. They were confident that he was responsible for Leila’s disappearance.

But Shannon Ryan had his own version of events, and it was quite a story.

In a video posted to his Facebook account on August 9th, a week before his arrest, Ryan said that he and Leila had known each other since January of 2019, when she knocked on his door in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in the middle of the night, claiming her car had broken down. According to Ryan, he let Leila stay the night, but the next day she admitted that she had been kicked out of her house and didn’t have anywhere to go. Ryan claimed he let Leila and her then 1-year-old son Kamdyn move in with him for a few months.

Eventually Leila and Kamdyn moved back to Georgia, but Ryan said they stayed in touch. On his Facebook page, Ryan identified himself as a master of the occult arts, making money doing psychic readings. According to Ryan, he was in Florida in July of 2020 visiting his apprentice who was ill, when he saw that Leila had purchased the white truck. He messaged her and said that he wanted to buy it from her; she agreed to drive the truck down to Florida to make the sale and that she would stay and become his new apprentice.

When Leila and Kamdyn arrived in Florida, they met up with Ryan at the Wal-Mart in Hollywood, where he paid her $3,000 for the truck. Leila and Kamdyn then got into Ryan’s Lexus, stopping at the RaceTrac gas station. Ryan said they spent the day together at the beach, returning to the gas station later that evening.

Then, Ryan claimed that Leila started talking to “some guys in a car”, guys that he thought looked familiar. According to Ryan, he tried to talk Leila out of leaving with these men, but she took Kamdyn and got into the men’s dark sedan, all of this taking place around 2am. Ryan said that he waited next to her truck for a long time, thinking she would return eventually, but she didn’t. Ryan then claimed that he stayed around the RaceTrac for the next few days, using their wifi and waiting for Leila to return. He then returned to the Wal-Mart, where he saw that the white truck had a broken window, so he put a garbage bag over it to protect it from the rain. Suddenly, he was surrounded by police officers who said they were looking for a missing woman. Ryan watched as they searched his Lexus, and he told them that he didn’t know where Leila was or that she was even missing.

Unfortunately for Shannon Ryan, his story didn’t line up with the evidence that investigators had been gathering. Here is what they found.

According to the FBI, Leila Cavett did leave Georgia with the intention of becoming Shannon Ryan’s apprentice. Leila left Georgia on July 24th, arriving with Kamdyn in Hollywood, Florida, on the afternoon of July 25th. At 2:20pm, Leila pulled the white truck into the RaceTrac parking lot and stopped behind a silver Lexus with a missing front end. Surveillance video showed Leila speaking with the driver of the Lexus, Shannon Ryan, who gestured in the direction of the Wal-Mart. Ryan then got back into his Lexus, and Leila followed behind in the truck. At this time, investigators believe Leila left the truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot and got into Ryan’s Lexus with Kamdyn.

At 3:06pm, the Lexus pulled back into the RaceTrac. Leila got out of the driver’s seat, spent three minutes in the convenience store, then returned to the Lexus. A few minutes later, Ryan purchased cigarettes from the convenience store, then also returned to the Lexus. They weren’t seen again until 4:51pm, nearly two hours later, when Leila and Kamdyn were seen shopping at the Family Dollar.

After that, there is a nearly four-hour gap in the arrest report. Presumably, the three of them went to the beach as Ryan previously stated. At 8:35pm, Leila was seen at the Cheesecake Factory, where Ryan said she went inside to pick up their food. The last known sighting of Leila was at 10:15pm, when the Lexus pulled back into the RaceTrac. With Kamdyn on her hip, Leila filled a cup at the soda machine while Ryan paid for gas. The three of them then left the convenience store and drove off in the silver Lexus, Ryan at the wheel.

There is no evidence that Leila ever returned to the RaceTrac that night, or that she got into a dark sedan with three strange men like Ryan had claimed. But there is evidence that Ryan was responsible for leaving 2-year-old Kamdyn alone in a parking lot.

At 8:00 on the morning of July 26th, Shannon Ryan returned to the RaceTrac, where he withdrew money from an ATM. Twenty minutes later, the silver Lexus was caught on surveillance camera pulling into the parking lot of the Edge Apartments. An individual matching Ryan’s description was spotted on camera a moment later. According to the arrest affidavit, Ryan’s cell phone pinged off a tower nearby in the moments just before Kamdyn was found wandering alone.

At 8:38am, the Lexus was back at the RaceTrac. The car sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes, and it seemed as though there was movement inside, but Ryan didn’t get out. Instead, he drove away again, then returned a few minutes later, parking next to the dumpster in the back.

At 9:30am, Ryan drove to the Wal-Mart. Inside the store, he purchased large garbage bags, extra strength carpet odor eliminator, and duct tape.

Later that day, Ryan called a friend and told him that he had a truck for sale for $1,000, that a girl he knew had driven it down from Georgia. But the friend wasn’t interested.

On July 27th, Ryan moved the white truck from the Wal-Mart parking lot to the RaceTrac, parking it next to the dumpster. Ryan was seen on camera going back and forth between the truck and the dumpster; this was confirmed by a gas station employee who remembered seeing him that day. The employee also stated that when they later looked inside the dumpster, they saw children’s toys and women’s clothes, including a pair of floral pants that matched the picture taken of Leila at the Cracker Barrel just days before.

According to the arrest affidavit, Ryan was also seen dragging a large object wrapped in black garbage bags from the truck to the dumpster. He then placed what appeared to be a pile of bloody towels into a nearby trash can. Data pulled from his cell phone would later reveal that shortly after midnight on July 26th, Ryan had searched the internet for a timetable of commercial garbage pickup in Hollywood, Florida.

By this time, investigators were actively looking for Leila and the white truck. A license plate reader confirmed that the truck had been seen at the Wal-Mart in Hollywood, so police set up a surveillance detail. They didn’t have to wait long. On July 28th, detectives watched as Shannon Ryan approached the truck with keys in hand. Before he could get in, he was surrounded by officers questioning him about Leila and the truck. He told them his version of the story, including the part about the men in the dark sedan and the broken window in the truck.

The officers didn’t have enough to arrest Ryan at the time, but they quickly began investigating his statements. As I mentioned before, there was no proof of the men in the sedan, but there was evidence that directly contradicted his statement about the broken window.

Ryan claimed that Leila had delivered the truck to him with a broken window, but surveillance video showed that all the windows were intact when Leila arrived in Florida. Once investigators obtained a federal warrant to search the truck, they discovered that the driver’s side window had been broken and the driver’s side visor was bent, possibly indicating that there had been a struggle. According to the arrest affidavit, investigators also discovered shovels in the truck that had “small droplets of a red substance on them.”

Investigators were also able to obtain a warrant to search the silver Lexus. Inside, they found black trash bags, a half-empty bottle of all-purpose cleaner with bleach, and a white powdery substance underneath the passenger seat.

After Ryan’s arrest on August 16th, Leila’s family struggled to make sense of everything. Her father Curtis told 7News, “I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m mad, I’m upset.” Curtis also expressed that he thought Ryan knew more than he was saying, that he was holding back important details. Curtis didn’t believe that his daughter was involved in witchcraft, but he wanted to let investigators do their job, believing that justice was out there.

Unfortunately, the road to justice can be slow and bumpy. A federal judge ruled that Ryan was a flight risk and ordered that he be held at the Broward County Jail without bond until the case could go before a grand jury. Leila’s family continued to wait while Ryan sat in jail. Then, in April of 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced that they were dropping the federal charge of kidnapping. No explanation was given, but the charge was dismissed without prejudice, which means that they can still file federal charges in the future.

Naturally, Leila’s family was devastated by this news. Her sister Curina told NBC6, “I think it’s unfair… Whether she’s alive or she’s not, she’s out there somewhere regardless if she’s breathing or she’s not, she’s somewhere and I feel like they need to put more effort into finding her. We need justice.”

Although the federal kidnapping charge was dropped, Shannon Ryan still faced a state charge of child neglect for his abandonment of Kamdyn. Even without the federal charge, he would remain in jail. Then, in May of 2021, the Hollywood Police Department filed their own charges: second-degree murder and tampering with evidence. Ryan pleaded not guilty to all charges. As of this recording, he is still in jail awaiting trial.

Leila Cavett is still missing. Investigators have continued to search, canvassing neighborhoods and combing through landfills. They are not giving up on her, and neither is her family. They are now raising Kamdyn with all the love his mother would have given him. And they continue to wait for justice.

If you have any information about Leila’s case, please contact the Hollywood Police Department at 954-764-4357 or contact Broward Crime Stoppers at browardcrimestoppers.org. And don’t forget to share Leila’s story so we can bring her home.