Jhessye Shockley, a 5-year-old girl from Glendale, Arizona, has been missing since October 11th. You may remember that the media coverage of Jhessye’s case was widely criticized by bloggers (myself included) who suggested that Jhessye’s skin color may have been a factor in the way the missing child’s plight was ignored (while coverage of missing white infant Lisa Irwin soared).
When I posted about Jhessye’s story, I focused solely on the media’s coverage of her tale without mentioning that her mother, Jerice Hunter, had previously been jailed for child abuse. (At the time, police firmly did not believe that anyone in Jhessye’s family was responsible for her disappearance.) Now it turns out that Jerice Hunter is the prime suspect in her daughter’s disappearance, and police believe Jhessye is dead.
The Associated Press reports that “Hunter was arrested on a felony count of child abuse Monday (Nov. 21), more than five weeks after she reported her daughter Jhessye Shockley missing.” Court documents reveal that Hunter’s 13-year-old daughter told her foster mother and police that Hunter told the 13-year-old to lie about babysitting Jhessye the day she went missing and admitted that she was in fact not with Jhessye on October 11th as Hunter suggested. The 13-year-old depicted a grim scene at her mother’s home, telling authorities that “Hunter became angry when she returned home to find Jhessye wearing a long T-shirt while watching TV with a neighbor boy, telling the girl that she was a “ho” before taking her into a bedroom,” where Jhessye was kept in a closet and deprived of food and water.
The teen says Hunter pulled Jhessye’s hair out “and described Jhessye as not looking alive” but “like a zombie.” According to Hunter’s 13-year-old daughter, “her mother spent the entire day cleaning the apartment and cleaning (Jhessye’s) shoes from the closet with soap and bleach” in the days before the child was reported missing. Police have found a receipt showing that Hunter bought a bottle of bleach two days before she reported her daughter missing. That certainly doesn’t prove that Hunter committed murder, but it doesn’t bode well for her, either.
The AP reiterates that “Hunter told police that she last saw Jhessye on Oct. 11 after she left her in her older siblings’ care while she ran an errand.” Hunter was 8 months pregnant on October 11th and has since given birth to an infant who has been removed from her care.
Hunter served almost four years in a California jail before being released on parole in May 2010. According to Digital Journal, “Hunter was not supposed to even be in custody of her children, who have now been taken by Child Protective Services. Hunter’s mother had illegally returned the children to her after she left California and moved to Arizona.” Which may explain why Jhessye’s grandmother, Shirley Johnson, was so adamant that police had “botched this investigation.” Was she secretly afraid that her daughter had killed her grandchild? Did she feel guilty for putting her grandchildren back in her daughter’s care?
No one can be sure how Shirley Johnson feels now that her daughter is the focus of the investigation into her granddaughter’s disappearance. But Hunter’s father, Jesse Johnson, told reporters on Tuesday that he believes his daughter is innocent. “It’s a witch hunt,” he said. “I don’t believe the police got this right. They’re not going to find anything.”