The Glendale Police Department confirmed this afternoon that Jerice Hunter, the mother of missing 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley, has been arrested for child abuse "directly related" to the disappearance of her daughter.
Additionally, Glendale Sergeant Brent Coombs says, it's unlikely the girl will be found alive.
"With the information that has come to our investigators within the past few days, we do not believe it will be likely that we will find Jhessye alive," Coombs says.
Hunter, who served four years in a California prison for child abuse, has vehemently denied from day one that she had any involvement in her daughter's disappearance.
"Do I look like I'm capable of hurting my child," Hunter scolded reporters in front of the State Capitol last month when asked if she harmed Jhessye.
Since then, Hunter has refused to take a polygraph test on multiple occasions, and has been uncooperative with the investigation. She is now the Glendale Police Department's "number one focus."
Coombs says information gathered in the last few days indicated Hunter had abused the girl. He would not say whether police suspect Hunter murdered Jhessye.
The search for the girl continues, and Coombs says "there is an area of [a nearby] landfill that is of interest to us" but is yet to be searched.
Members of Hunter's family were at Glendale Police Headquarters this afternoon, and told reporters they're not surprised that Hunter's been indicated in Jhessye's disappearance.
Hatty Hunter, one of Hunter's aunts, says she suspects Jerice hurt the girl.
"I believe she have somethin' to do with it, but she just ain't talkin'," Hunter says. "It might have been an accident...she don't feel like talkin' about it."
Tammy Hunter, one of Jhessye's aunts, says she doesn't know what to think about Jerice's arrest, and wouldn't speculate about whether she was involved in the girls apparent death.
"I think it's been too long and I think she needs to be found one way or the other," she says.
She adds that Jhessye's siblings -- who are all now in the custody of Child Protective Services -- may have told authorities something that led to Hunter's arrest.
Coombs maintains that police are still doing all they can to find Jhessye, or her remains. He says police and Silent Witness have increased the reward for information about the case to $25,000.
Anyone with information is asked to call Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS.
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