In April 2016, two-year-old Arianna Fitts and her mother, 32-year-old Nicole Fitts, went missing from Oakland, California. Soon after, Nicole was found buried in John McLaren Park, but Arianna has never been located. Now, the FBI is taking another look at this cold case in hopes of finding some answers as to who murdered Nicole and what happened to Arianna.
On April 8, Nicole’s body was found. No cause of death has been released by the authorities. Her body was discovered by a groundskeeper while he was moving a piece of plywood he found resting behind bushes covered in Ivy. She had been placed in a shallow grave and covered with the large board which had been painted with a strange silver symbol. Her body was in the fetal position.
The investigation revealed that Arianna has been missing for much longer. No one had seen her since mid-February 2016. Police believe she was with someone else when her mother was murdered. They have released numerous photos and a forensic sketch showing how she might appear at 6 and 8 years old.
According to the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Scott Schelble with the FBI’s San Francisco field office, they believe that Arianna was not with her mother at the time of the murder, but they do believe the murder is related to Arianna’s disappearance.
So, what led up to her murder and Arianna’s disappearance?
In the months before Nicole’s death, she had been struggling. She spent some time in a homeless shelter and sent her older daughter to live with her father in southern California where he could better provide for her, but had kept Arianna with her.
While staying at the shelter, a street pastor named Lamasani Briggs had taken Nicole and Arianna into her home. Nicole paid Briggs to rent a room in her home and for babysitting while she worked. After a few months, Brigg’s niece, Siolo Hearne, began babysitting Arianna instead.
Nicole’s sister said that Briggs was abusive. She wouldn’t give Nicole a key to the house, had been caught reading her journal, and often sent her text messages in which she called her names. In November 2015, Nicole’s sister had picked Nicole and Arianna up to get them out of a bad situation and take them to her own home in Santa Cruz, California.
However, this put Nicole at a good distance from her job, forcing her to commute for two hours each way to get to work. Because of the extended commute and sometimes long work hours, she would often leave Arianna with Brigg’s nieces, Siolo Hearne or Helena Martin. Sometimes, Devin Martin — Helena’s husband helped. If she was going to be too late getting back, Nicole would stay with friends rather than making the long trek back when her daughter would already be asleep anyway.
At some point, Arianna’s babysitters began making excuses not to let Nicole take her daughter when she returned for her. A coworker offered to let the struggling mom and daughter stay with her so Nicole and Ariana could get away from them, but they stopped letting Nicole see Arianna at all. At the time of Nicole’s disappearance, no one had seen Arianna for about six weeks.
Nicole had gone ahead and moved in with her co-worker, who told police that on the day Nicole disappeared, she had been planning to retrieve Arianna from the people who had her. The roommate said that Nicole had been very upset about not being allowed to see her child and she had encouraged her to contact the police to intervene, but no report was made.
Instead, Nicole went out with a friend during the day on April 1, 2016, and when she returned, she told her roommate that she was going out after getting a call believed to come from one of her babysitters. She was intent on getting her daughter back that night, but it was the last time anyone would see her.
On the day Nicole disappeared, she texted her family to say she was going to Fresno, California with someone named Sam, but her family said they had never heard her speak of anyone named Sam and didn’t believe she knew anyone by that name. They think it is possible that someone else sent the text to cover up her absence.
In the wee hours of April 2, a post was made on Nicole’s Facebook page. It read: “Spending time with my 3-year-old need this brake.” Her family has said they don’t believe she wrote the post, as Arianna was only two and Nicole always wrote with proper spelling and grammar. She would not have gotten the age wrong or misspelled the word “break.”
When police visited with Hearne and the Martins, they were very uncooperative and made conflicting statements. Helena Martin was found to also have a record. She served six years in prison for murdering the father of her child. Still, neither Hearne, the Martins, or Briggs have been named as suspects in either Nicole’s homicide or Arianna’s disappearance. They have since relocated and are believed to currently be living in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A spokesperson for the SFPD investigators on the case said in a statement to the press:
“The San Francisco Police Department continues to actively investigate this incident and we will continue to investigate this matter as long as it takes. We will pursue all leads, continue to examine all evidence, and seek out all individuals who may have information. We wanted to speak to everyone who interacted with Nicole leading up to her disappearance…. Try to remember every detail you can, no matter how insignificant you think it may be. If you remember something, please contact us even if you previously talked with us.”
The renewed interest in the case comes as investigators have had individuals come forward with additional information on the case in recent months. Also, advances in digital and biological forensic evidence have allowed them to learn more than they were able to at the time the crime was first reported, according to the FBI.
“We will never give up until this case comes to a resolution. We will never give up until we have justice for Nicole and justice for Arianna.” — ASAC Scott Schelble, speaking to KTVU Fox 2.
Nicole’s sisters have told reporters that they believe Arianna is still alive. One of them stated that she believes her niece was taken by “someone who wanted Arianna as their own.”
In April 2022, the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI increased the reward for any information leading to the closure of this case to $250,000.
Anyone with information about the murder of Nicole Fitts or the whereabouts of Arianna Fitts is asked to contact the FBI San Francisco field office at 415–553–7400 or the SFPD anonymous tip line at 415–575–4444. You can also submit anonymous tips to the FBI.