Yesterday new details emerged about missing 5-year-old Arizona girl Jhessye Shockley, who police now believe is dead. Police still won't say exactly what information convinced them that her mother, Jerice Hunter, was involved in her death, but it seems likely that an interview with Jhessye's 13-year-old sister was a factor. She says her sister suffered horrific abuse, and their mother coached her and her siblings to lie about the last time they saw Jhessye.
The Associated Press reports that according to a probable cause statement, shortly after the 13-year-old and her siblings were removed from their mother's care, she opened up to her foster mother about what went on in their home. Police interviewed the girl again after she confessed that, "she was told by her mother, Jerice, to lie to police about Jhessye being missing." The girl says that a few weeks ago her mother became furious when she came home and found Jhessye watching TV with a neighbor boy while wearing a long t-shirt. She called the girl a "ho" and took her into the bedroom. Her sister could hear her screaming and crying.
When Jhessye was first born, Jerice had been arrested for beating her other children and she served only a few years of an eight-year prison sentence. The 13-year-old claims that Jhessye was being physically abused, often sporting black eyes, bruises, and cuts, and was also neglected in the weeks before her disappearance. She says her mother kept Jhessye in a bedroom closet and didn't give her food or water. "(She) reported that Jhessye's hair had been pulled out and described Jhessye as not looking alive and that she looked like a zombie," said the report. "(She) said that the closet where Jhessye had been looked like a grave and smelled like dead people."
Chillingly, the 13-year-old says that she actually didn't see Jhessye at all on the day her disappearance was reported, and her mother had been using bleach and soap to clean the apartment and shoes from her closet a few days before she contacted police. Jerice insisted in her first court appearance yesterday that she's innocent.
As horrific as the abuse charges are, there's another infuriating narrative developing in the story. According to The Arizona Republic, a relative told police that Jhessye was being abused in April, but they pushed the case off on CPS, which found no evidence of abuse. Then the case was seemingly abandoned, even though none of the children should have been in Jerice's care. Her parental rights were severed when she was first convicted of child abuse, but the children's grandmother let them live with their mother when she got out of prison. When reporters from KPHO asked CPS officials why they let the children stay with their mother if she didn't have custody, they said they wouldn't comment on the case. This is one of those cases that makes you want to resign your affiliation with the human race, not only because of the abuse allegations and the probability that Jhessye's story isn't getting as much attention as it would if she were a missing white girl, but because many adults knew Jhessye was in danger, and it seems no one did enough to save her.