(Photo: AP Photo/Maricopa County Sheriffs Office)
The search for missing 5-year-old Jahessye Shockley took a shocking and somber turn Monday when police arrested her mother, Jerice Hunter, on child abuse charges “directly related” to Jahessye and told reporters that there was now little hope that the girl would be found alive.
The Arizona child has been missing since Oct. 11 when police say she wandered from her apartment while her mother was out, running an errand. Until now, there have been no suspects or leads in the case. But following Monday’s arrest of Hunter, based on new information provided to police, authorities say she is now their “No. 1 focus.”
"I'd like to make it very clear that this is by no means the end to this investigation," Glendale police Sgt. Brent Coombs told reporters. "Our investigators will continue to work diligently to locate Jahessye. This is just a step down that investigative path towards that final conclusion."
Police say that Hunter has been uncooperative with their efforts to set up a lie-detector test with her. According to Hunter, however, the investigation and the media have been too focused on vilifying her, rather than putting forward all efforts toward finding her daughter.
"They told me they were going to get me, and now they're doing it, like they said," Hunter told a court commissioner Monday night, according to the Arizona Register.
Six months before Jahessye disappeared, Hunter was investigated for child abuse by the Glendale police and state Child Protective Services. In that instance, police found no evidence of abuse. However, in 2005, Hunter was convicted of child abuse and served 3 1/2 years in a California state prison; a crime her mother and father say she has been rehabilitated from.
"My daughter hasn't done anything," Jesse Johnson, Hunter’s father, said. "I've never seen my daughter do anything to her kids except love them."
Last month, Hunter and her mother accused the media and the local police department of racism, claiming that Jahessye would have received a greater search effort if she were white.
In the wake of Hunter’s arrest, police have increased the reward offered for information leading to Jahessye’s whereabouts to $25,000.
If you have any information, police encourage you to contact the Glendale Police Department at 623-930-HELP (4357).