Crime

Body found in freezer in Bradenton home positively identified as Janiya Thomas

Bradenton police say body of girl found in freezer

The body of a child believed to be missing 11-year-old Janiya Thomas was found in a freezer in a Manatee County home Sunday, Bradenton police said.
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The body of a child believed to be missing 11-year-old Janiya Thomas was found in a freezer in a Manatee County home Sunday, Bradenton police said.

BRADENTON -- The body found in a freezer last week has been positively identified as Janiya Thomas, an 11-year-old Bradenton girl who had been missing for more than a year.

The bombshell was dropped during a court hearing Monday afternoon in the case of Janiya's mother, 31-year-old Keishanna Thomas.

"Is it established now that that was the body of that child or is it not certain yet?" Manatee Circuit Judge Scott M. Brownell asked attorneys at the hearing that lasted roughly three minutes.

Thomas' attorney, Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts, said he believes it is now.

"Because the answer to that question satisfies everything," Brownell said. "Do we know who that child is?"

"It is Janiya Thomas," Assistant State Attorney Arthur Brown responded.

Still not revealed is what killed Janiya or how long she has been dead.

A contempt of court charge against Thomas was dropped as a result of the positive identification. Last week, Thomas refused multiple times to speak to a judge in court about her daughter.

Thomas was first brought before a judge Oct. 16 for refusing to tell investigators with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Child Protective Investigative Division of the child's whereabouts. Investigators had come to the Thomas home in the Village at Cortez Apartments, 488 51st St. W., Bradenton, to remove all five of her children as part of a child-abuse case involving her 12-year-old son.

On the night of Oct. 18, law enforcement was called to the home of a family member who had discovered a body believed to be Janiya inside a freezer.

A warrant affidavit last week revealed that the frozen body of a small black child was contorted to fit in a small cardboard box within the freezer, along with two boxes of baking soda. No other items were in the freezer.

The warrant affidavit also shed light on an exchange between Thomas and a resident of the home in the 5000 block of 21st Way East, where she reportedly dropped the freezer off on Oct. 14. According to the document, the occupant asked Thomas why the freezer was locked. Thomas said she didn't want anyone to steal her meat. The occupant also asked Thomas why she was plugging it in and Thomas replied she didn't want her meat to go bad.

Janiya's mother and a boyfriend, yet to be identified by police, brought the freezer to the home under the guise she was being evicted.

Maria Barger, who lives across the street from Janiya's great-grandmother -- where the freezer was dropped off -- said she wasn't surprised by the positive identification.

"We already knew because it was family members that found her. We already knew it was her. That's not surprising to me at all," Barger said. "All I know is I hope at this point that they can get her (Keishanna Thomas) charged with murder... and she gets what she deserves."

There will be an arraignment for Thomas at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in her dependency case involving her other children, ages 15, 12, 9 and 2.

Thomas is being held in Manatee County jail on her remaining charges of aggravated child abuse, child abuse with great bodily harm and abuse of a human dead body, on bonds totaling $200,000.

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.

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