Exclusive: 'Miracle Girl' attacked, buried under concrete survives, speaks out
11/10/2016 2:00 pm PST
They are two sides of one horrible crime: There's a monster with murder on his mind, and there's a young victim who with an unstoppable will to live. Lachele Nance earned the nickname "Miracle Girl."
Lachele Nance has an amazing spirit, especially when you consider at age of 8 years old, she was abducted, stuffed in a trash can and left for dead.
A senseless crime, cruelty beyond belief. A monster terrorized an innocent 8-year-old. And it was her family that invited him in.
But there is someone speaking out and standing up to him: The little girl he left to die.
Now she's all grown up, and for the very first time telling only Crime Watch Daily her story of inconceivable terror, and unbelievable courage.
Lachele Nance is precocious, whip-smart and has a photographic memory.
"She had a great mind. She could remember anything if she saw someone -- one time -- if she saw them again, she knew who they were. She knew them by their name," said Lachele's mother, Machele Humose.
Machele and Lisa Taylor, Lachele's godmother, are best friends. With their kids they form a tight-knit family in Lake Worth, Florida. And in the spring of 2004 that family would grow, quite by chance.
"A friend of my son Eddie was sleeping in a little dilapidated car that we had out by the yard, and I went out there and I woke him up and I asked him, 'Why are you here?'" said Taylor.
His name is Milagro Cunningham, a teenager from the Bahamas, shuffled from home to home. Lisa takes pity on Milagro and invites him into her house with open arms.
"We treated him just like he was family. It's our nature," she said.
Milagro soon blends right in.
"He was a regular kid," said Machele. "He played games on the TV, played with the other kids, went out with them." No one knew there was a monster hiding within.
On a typical Saturday night for Lachele, a sleepover at her godmother's, Lachele shared a bed with Lisa's 1-year-old grandson. The house was quiet until just after midnight, when a new day of terror began.
"About 1 o'clock that morning my middle daughter Danielle, she came in and she told me that she didn't see Lachele," said Lisa Taylor.
They searched the house. Lachele's shoes sit neatly by the front door, but no Lachele. Lisa calls the little girl's mom, Machele, in a panic.
Lachele is nowhere to be found. Police arrive to assist. That's when Milagro tells Lisa and Machele an incredible story: He was awakened by a white man abducting Lachele from her bedroom.
"He's telling us this story about how he was in the living room and someone bursts inside my house and they had taken her out of the house," said Lisa. "Something just wasn't right."
"He described a car, a station wagon with a dent in it, which was exactly the car that was parked in the driveway. And he said some guys took her and he tried to chase them," said Machele. "He ran almost, maybe eight blocks, behind a car. It just didn't make sense."
In his statement to police, Milagro says when he catches up to the station wagon, the white man jumps him.
"Three other white males joined in the attack," he tells officers, "knocking him to the ground," "kicking and punching him" in a beat-down that "lasted approximately 20 minutes."
The story is far-fetched. Retired Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement investigator Mike Driscoll says he wasn't buying it.
"He may have had a torn shirt, but he hadn't really sustained any injuries from the beating," said Driscoll. "It's a big red flag."
One thing police are sure of is that Lachele Nance is missing.
"There were dozens, if not a hundred law enforcement personnel that searched the area for Lachele," said Driscoll.
Officers canvass the neighborhood, a local cemetery, every square foot around Lisa's house, including a landfill just blocks from where Lachele was taken.
"It's just a area where a lot of bad things tend to happen sometimes," said retired Lake Worth Police Sgt. Michael Hall. "If she was going to be somewhere it was probably going to be in the landfill."
Hall and his partner scan the landfill's access road, unsure of what they'd find.
"As we started driving up the access road, one of the first things we see is a pair of underwear laying on the road," said Hall. "Couple feet away from that, I believe, it was a pair of shorts, and at that point I think we both realized that she's going to be in here somewhere."
To the right of the road were two large construction dumpsters.
"Inside the dumpster was just a lone recycling bin on wheels," said Hall. "I kind of opened the lid and observed large pieces of broken concrete in the bin."
Stuffed beneath the concrete, a heartbreaking sight.
"And as I look closer into the bin I see a hand and a foot," said Hall. It's Lachele.
"I then get on the radio, I notify the command post that in fact we found her and that it did not look good," said Hall. "I did not think she was alive."
At Lisa Taylor's house, the family gets awful news that Lachele's body had been found.
"And he put her head first so she wouldn't be able to get out. And he put concrete on top of her. And he left her. He left her there to die," said Machele.
"We got word that the dead body was found in the Lake Worth landfill, so we immediately responded to that location," said Mike Driscoll.
Lachele Nance's little body was buried under 200 pounds of concrete.
"She was upside down in a fetal position, chunks of concrete on top of her," said Driscoll. "I mean, heavy chunks, like some of them weighed as much as 30 pounds."
Officers begin the grim task of recovering Lachele's body. But nothing prepares them for what happens next.
"When we looked in, Lieutenant Matthews said he just saw her finger move, so instantly we jumped into the dumpster and began removing large chunks of concrete off of her," said Driscoll.
"I heard the doctor said she was within 10 to 20 minutes of all her internal organs shutting down," said Hall.
Lachele barely clings to life, but the weakened 8-year-old still gathers the strength to whisper the name of the man who tried to kill her: Milagro.
Lachele Nance is 12 years older now, and after a long physical rehabilitation, back on her feet. She's finally able to tell her whole terrifying story publicly for the first time.
We want to warn you that it's graphic and disturbing.
"I remember waking up to someone touching me," Nance said, recalling the early morning the crime occurred. "So I woke up and then it was Milagro."
Milagro Cunningham, the same guy Lachele's family took in off the streets, concocted a story to lure Lachele outside.
"So I get up and I have no shoes, no shoes, I just had on the clothes I slept in," said Lachele.
As soon as Lachele is out of the house, Milagro attacks.
"And that's when he grabbed me and shut the door," said Lachele. "And he was saying 'If you scream I am going to hurt you, if you scream I am going to hurt you,' and he was walking me towards, he walked me over to the landfill."
There, a few blocks from the house, Milagro slammed her to the ground, punched her senseless, then viciously raped her.
"He made me get up and that's when he grabbed me and started choking me," said Lachele.
Lachele is no match for Milagro's brute strength. So she takes a gamble and plays dead.
"When he's choking me, I don't know how I got the idea to fake my death, so I just like, when he threw me down on the ground the last time, I just held my breath, and when he called out to me I didn't make any movement. I just laid there with my eyes closed," said Lachele.
Then, Lachele says, Milagro tried to permanently cover up his crime.
"He finally grabbed me, threw me over his shoulder. He walked further down," said Lachele. "We got to one of the dumpsters and he threw me inside one of the dumpsters and he closed it. I remember him rolling the dumpster and I guess that's when he got into the rocks, and so he put the cement on top of me and it was like -- I didn't really understand it at first but as I got older, it's like how such an evil person he was. As he was throwing the rocks on top of me he was saying sorry, and laughing after each rock. I really thought I was going to die. I really thought I was going to die."
Trapped under cement close to four times her weight, the little 8-year-old girl can't move. All she can do is lay there for eight agonizing hours. Then just as she feels her life slipping away, Lachele hears faint voices.
"I kind of thought it was a dream," said Lachele. "I just remember the officers pulling the rocks off of me, and I think one was crying, not really sure which one it was. But one of them was crying. I remember that."
Four years after he brutalized Lachele, Milagro Cunningham finally goes on trial. And Lachele's mom is there for to make sure he pays, one way or another, for what he did to her daughter.
"He's sitting there, he's got this smile on his face, this smirk, and you just want to beat the hell out of him, but you know they're not going to let you," said Machele. "It was very difficult, very."
Milagro's lawyers claim he has the mentality of a 7-year-old and didn't know right from wrong.
"He knew. I knew he -- if you take the time to put rock after rock after rock. It's almost 200 pounds of concrete on top of her," said Machele. "You knew what you were doing. You knew."
Jurors agree and reject his insanity defense. In 2009 he's sentenced to four life terms in prison.
But just a year later, the U.S. Supreme Court gives Milagro the mercy he never showed Lachele. A 2010 ruling throws out life terms for juveniles for crimes other than murder. At the time of Milagro's vicious attack, he was 17 -- 10 months shy of being an adult.
Milagro's public defender asks the judge to reduce the sentence further, citing his serious heart and kidney problems. Lachele decides enough is enough.
"I listened to them like make excuses for what he did, kind of like got me mad, and so I was like, I just have to stand up for myself because what he did was not right," said Lachele.
She testifies at Milagro's hearing, bringing the fight to him.
Judge Charles Burton ultimately reduces Milagro's sentence to 50 years, which may turn out to be a life sentence after all.
"He's on dialysis. He had to have a pacemaker put in. He is 27 years old. It's karma. That's karma," said Machele.
"There is a possibility that he could get out some day, that possibility exists, but I feel confident that he'll probably die in prison," said former state investigator Mike Driscoll.
Lachele is now taking her recovery many steps further, starting a nonprofit organization called Many Girls Like Us to help other young victims of assault.
"A lot of the girls have my phone number and you know texting them, talking to them when they're going through hard times, like a lot of kids, didn't open up to anybody, and just to know that they feel comfortable enough to confide in me is really good," said Lachele.
Under new state law in Florida, Milagro Cunningham's sentence will be reviewed again in 11 years.