Police were called by customs officials who found the toddler's remains in a man's duffel bag

By Chris Harris
Updated August 12, 2016 12:20 PM
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A man and a woman from Whittier, California, were detained by San Diego cops as they allegedly attempted to cross the Mexican border carrying the body of a 2-year-old girl in a duffel bag, PEOPLE confirms.

A statement from police obtained by PEOPLE claims Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, and Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, were arrested on suspicion of murder and child cruelty charges Tuesday at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry near the city’s border with Tijuana.

Police were called by customs officials after finding the remains of a toddler in a duffel bag that Hartley was allegedly carrying, according to the statement.

The couple were trying to cross the border on foot, police claim.

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The child’s lifeless body was discovered by technicians who’d x-rayed Hartley’s bag.

Police have yet to reveal the cause of death for the deceased 2-year-old, but believe she did not die from natural causes.

Investigators also haven’t released the name of the girl, but note the couple are not the girl’s parents.

When officials stopped the couple, Becerra allegedly ran, leaving Hartley and the duffel bag behind. Mexican authorities caught up with her a short time later, and turned her over to U.S. investigators.

Both suspects were interviewed by homicide detectives and booked into San Diego County jails on unspecified bail amounts.

It was unclear Thursday if either defendant had retained legal counsel.

Both will be arraigned on Friday.

Police ask that anyone with any information related to this incident call the San Diego Police Department’s Homicide Unit or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.