The Glendale Police Department says it now believes the body of missing 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley was thrown in a trash can in Tempe and may be in a landfill just south of the Valley.
Glendale Officer Tracey Breeden tells New Times that the case is now a homicide investigation and that Jhessye Shockley's mother, Jerice Hunter, is the primary focus.
Breeden says information was given to police -- after Hunter was arrested on child abuse charges last month -- that the 5-year-old's body was thrown in the trash. Breeden would only say the information was given to police through investigative leads and through Silent Witness.
Trash from the location where police suspect Jhessye was dumped is taken to the Butterfield Landfill south of the Valley. Detectives will now determine whether to search the landfill, a decision they'll base on -- among other variables -- the likelihood that they'll be able to find the body.
Jhessye was reported missing on October 11. Since then, Hunter's played the role of a concerned, grieving mother. However, the Glendale P.D.'s investigation revealed that Hunter served time in prison for abusing her other children. Detectives also determined that Hunter locked the girl in a closet for what may have been weeks before reporting her missing.
According to court records obtained by New Times, two of Jhessye's siblings, who are now in foster care, told their foster parents about some of the abuse Jhessye received at the hands of Hunter, who spent four years in a California prison for child abuse -- and scolded us last month for asking whether she hurt her daughter .
Jhessye's 13-year-old sister told her foster parents that several weeks before the little girl was reported missing, Hunter came home and found her watching TV with a boy from the neighborhood. The girl told her foster parents -- and later police -- that Hunter called Jhessye a "ho" and dragged her into a bedroom where the sister could hear Jhessye screaming and crying.
Following the apparent beating, Hunter kept the child in a closet. Her sister told police she had to bring the 5-year-old water when Hunter was out so she wouldn't become dehydrated. She would let the her out when Hunter was gone, but quickly put Jhessye back when Hunter got home to keep her from getting in trouble.
The sister also told investigators that she saw bruises and cuts on Jhessye's face and body while she was kept in the closet, and that her eyes were black and only slightly open.
The 13-year-old also told police that her sister's hair had been pulled out and that she didn't look alive. The older sibling described Jhessye as looking like a "zombie" and that the closet she was kept in smelled like "dead people" and was like a "grave."
All of the alleged abuse happened weeks before Hunter called police on October 11. The last time anyone saw Jhessye alive was September 22, which was the last time records show her attending school. Her sisters say they never saw Jhessye the day her mother reported her missing, when Hunter told police that the older siblings were watching the girl as she ran errands.
On October 9, Hunter bought a bottle of bleach at a Walgreens. She then cleaned the entire apartment and scrubbed her shoes that were in the closet with Jhessye with bleach, the sister told police.
Court records also show that Hunter was suspected of child abuse in April, and a report was filed. It's unclear whether Child Protective Services was alerted about the reported abuse.
Hunter has made sobbing attempts to declare her innocence since the day she reported her daughter missing more than two weeks after she was last seen alive. She's blamed everyone from the media to the Glendale Police Department for not locating her daughter. When we spoke to her, Hunter went ballistic when we asked if she had hurt her daughter.
"I really think they should take the focus off of me and quit asking people -- wasting time -- if I did something to my daughter," Hunter told us last month. "They should quit holding my babies hostage and trying to get them to say something [about what happened to Jahessye]. [Authorities are] telling me 'your kids aren't saying anything.' It's been 13 days. What do they expect my babies to say that they haven't already said? [CPS] don't wanna hear 'we love our mama, we wanna go home we want our mommy' -- they don't wanna hear that. They won't let me see them because they don't want them running into my arms. They don't wanna hear them scream 'mommy.'"
Hunter was arrested last month on child-abuse charges but wasn't officially charged because the Maricopa County Attorney's Office didn't want to create a double-jeopardy situation if police could gather enough evidence to later charge her with murder.
Glendale police say a decision about whether to search the landfill will be made in the next few weeks.