Police, family at odds as AZ girl remains missing

October 25, 2011 - 1:05 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — Nearly two weeks after a 5-year-old girl seemingly vanished outside her suburban Phoenix home, police were no closer Monday to figuring out what happened to her as her family criticized the investigation.

Jahessye Shockley has been missing since Oct. 11 after police believe she wandered from her apartment in Glendale while her mother was running an errand. The girl's three older siblings were the last to see her.

Police have no evidence, suspects or promising leads, but believe she was kidnapped because they found no trace of her after combing a 3-mile radius around her home. "This little girl doesn't just fall off the face of the earth," Glendale police Sgt. Brent Coombs said Monday.

More than 100 officers and volunteers canvassed the girl's neighborhood the week of her disappearance. They looked in pools, garbage bins, and shrubs; interviewed and searched the homes of registered sex offenders in the area, and stopped at every door to spread news about the disappearance and pass around her photo.

But Jahessye's family said that they don't feel that police has given her disappearance enough attention because she's black and her mother has a criminal history.

"We feel that law enforcement is not active in finding Jahessye and that they're more active in persecuting me instead of finding out where she is," said Jerice Hunter, Jahessye's mother, hours before she was planning to march on the state capitol in downtown Phoenix to draw more attention to the case.

State Child Protective Services removed Hunter's three other children from her home following Jahessye's disappearance but did not release a reason. Glendale police say that Hunter, who is eight months pregnant, is not a suspect and that police had nothing to do with the state's decision to take the children.

Hunter was arrested in California in a child abuse case in October 2005. She pleaded no contest to corporal punishment and served about four years in prison before she was released on parole in May 2010. Hunter's oldest child, 14 at the time, told police that his mother routinely beat the children.

Jahessye's grandmother, Shirley Johnson, has said that Hunter changed after her release from prison and loves her children.

"I have nothing to hide," Hunter said. "I have been forthcoming with law enforcement from day one. I let them turn my home into a crime scene hours after I reported that I couldn't find my daughter.

"They didn't find anything, but they're holding my children hostage," she said.

Coombs said that Jahessye's race has no effect on their efforts to find her and that the department has treated her family the same as they would treat any family in a missing child case — by repeatedly interviewing them for new details.

He said detectives are aware of Hunter's criminal record, but "it cannot cloud the issue or make them tunnel-visioned. They have to keep an open mind and look at every detail that comes in."

He has repeatedly said that the case is the department's No. 1 priority, that dozens of investigators were working the case and that the department would not stop until she's found. Detectives were focused on following tips from the public and going over the information they've collected so far, he said.

The department also has offered a $10,000 reward for information that leads them to Jahessye, on top of a $1,000 reward being offered by Arizona's Silent Witness tip line.

Coombs said that it's very important for the public to realize that Jahessye may not look the same as she does in pictures of her that have been released. "If I were an abductor or someone who has possession of her and I want to remain anonymous and I want to move about easily, I would alter her appearance as much as I could, even to the point of making her look like a little boy," he said.

Jahessye's case has drawn comparisons to the 1999 case of another Arizona girl, 11-year-old Mikelle Biggs. Mikelle vanished on Jan. 2, 1999, as she waited for an ice cream truck near her family's home in Mesa; all that was left behind was a bicycle and two quarters. She remains missing.

Hunter said that she believes that Jahessye was kidnapped and pleaded for whoever took her to "bring my baby back home."

"This is ridiculous," she said. "The family is in turmoil. We want our child."

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