SPRING LAKE, N.C. (MCT) — Authorities on Saturday found the body of a missing 11-month-old girl hidden in the attic of her home.

Harmony Jude Creech had been dead for three or four weeks, Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins announced late Saturday night.

Charges were expected soon against the child's mother, Johni Michelle Heuser, Rollins said.

On Saturday, she told investigators she had found the baby dead in her crib and concealed the body in the attic of her home.

"Her reasoning for such was that she was fearful," Rollins said of the 25-year-old mother of four.

Police had issued a statewide Amber Alert on Friday after Harmony's family reported her missing. The FBI assisted the Harnett County Sheriff's Department, although authorities never labeled the case an abduction. Though the body of the girl was found around lunchtime Saturday, authorities made the announcement at 9 p.m. because they didn't want news of the recovery to interfere with interviews with key people, specifically Heuser, Rollins said.

Harmony's reported disappearance shook the rural southeastern pocket of Harnett County outside Spring Lake, near Fort Bragg in Cumberland County. The girl's father, Robert Earl Creech II, had returned from a 15-month tour of Iraq on Friday, and had seen the infant girl only once, during a leave period in January.

The mother had told investigators Harmony vanished between 11 p.m. Thursday, when the mother put her to bed, and 11 a.m. Friday, when the family found she was gone. Also reported missing: a pink sheet, a handful of bibs and nearly all of Harmony's clothes.

Rollins said officers began searching the home again about 11 a.m. Saturday, then made the discovery.

Neighbor Bernice DeBerry said she was heartbroken to hear the outcome of the search, after she watched authorities from various outlets comb the area for the child.

"They did their job," Bernice DeBerry said. "They found her."

Bonnie West, who lived next door, said her father-in-law, Floyd West, owns the house Heuser was renting. Harnett County tax records show Floyd West owns property on Ray Road, but did not confirm the address.

Bonnie West described the house as a 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom home with an unfinished attic accessible through the ceiling of a closet in one of the bedrooms.

The neighbor said she and some other residents had been puzzled by a rancid smell coming from outside their houses for the past few weeks. They combed their yards, looking for the source, but never found it, Bonnie West said. Once the weather cooled, she said, it subsided.