Crime

Investigators knew for weeks Janiya was missing from her home

Keishanna Thomas' attorney attempted to waive her appearance before Circuit Judge Scott Brownell for a dependency petition arraignment hearing, but Brownell said it was not an option, and ordered Thomas to enter the courtroom. 
 TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald
Keishanna Thomas' attorney attempted to waive her appearance before Circuit Judge Scott Brownell for a dependency petition arraignment hearing, but Brownell said it was not an option, and ordered Thomas to enter the courtroom. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald ttompkins@bradenton.com

BRADENTON -- Almost a month before Janiya Thomas was officially reported missing, investigators knew the girl had disappeared but failed repeatedly to get any specific details from her mother.

Investigators noticed Janiya was not home Sept. 23 when they arrived to investigate allegations that Keishanna Thomas had severely beaten her 12-year-old son, the latest reports released by the Florida Department of Children and Families reveal. It was the 12th time they had been called out to investigate abuse. Seven different allegations involved Janiya.

By Sept. 25, all four of Janiya's siblings were already under protective custody. Case notes show no entries of action taken to locate the girl until Oct. 5. An entry dated Sept. 30, however, characterizes the case as a "missing child" type: "E-Mail contact; Missing Child -- Attempt to Locate; Reasonable Efforts to Locate Child."

"We didn't feel at first she was missing," sheriff's office spokesman Dave Bristow said Friday.

Thomas gave investigators the run-around and delayed giving them details beyond that she was with family out of state, Bristow added. She never offered any specifics.

Investigators asked Thomas on Sept. 23 why Janiya was not home, according to the DCF reports.

"The mother stated she wasn't in the home as she was at a family member's house," Child Protective Investigator Danielle McCoy wrote in one report. "CPS asked who the family member was but the mother stated it did not matter."

Thomas also told investigators it was not important because the 12-year-old child they had been called out for was the only issue and concern, the report states.

Investigators called Thomas on the morning of Sept. 25 and asked about Janiya and her 2-year-old brother.

"She said that (the brother) was with his godmother and Janiya was with her father's family out of state somewhere and she advised that she did not have any information of her whereabouts. CPS asked about contact information for the grandparents. She said she did not have any contact information," McCoy wrote. "CPS advised that all the children needed to be seen by CPS and we need to see them today."

Moments later, one of the other children was interviewed at school, and asked about her brother and Janiya. The girl said each child was at their godmother's home.

"CPS asked the last time she could remember seeing Janiya, and (the child) stated it had been maybe a year that she could remember seeing her sister," McCoy wrote.

It was only then investigators learned from the school's registrar that Janiya was being homeschooled. Janiya had been pulled out of school in 2013 and was registered as a homeschool student in August 2013.

During a follow-up interview with Janiya's 12-year-old brother, who had been removed from the home and placed in a shelter at that point, the boy told the investigator he was concerned about Janiya.

"He stated the last time he saw her was a year ago, they all went to school but Janiya never came home," McCoy wrote. "He stated the children all asked their mother, Keishanna, where the child was but she wouldn't answer. He stated they kept asking her and she finally stated "she is at 'God's mom's house."

On the afternoon of Sept. 25, investigators and DCF attorneys were present in court for a shelter hearing regarding Thomas' 12-year-old son. Thomas did not appear in court.

Circuit Judge Scott Brownell was updated on the case and he granted protective custody for Janiya's sisters and ordered Janiya and her 2-year-old brother to be produced.

Afterwards, McCoy picked up both of Janiya's sisters from school and took them to eat at McDonald's. The eldest had told McCoy that her baby brother was at his godmother's house and that she knew where that was.

When the investigator called Thomas, she said the toddler lived with his godmother and that she would bring him into the office. About an hour later, Thomas reportedly arrived with the 2-year-old boy and he was taken into protective custody.

Investigators told Thomas prior to her bringing the boy to their office, that they had obtained court orders to keep the girls in protective custody and requiring Thomas to produce Janiya and her 2-year-old brother.

"The mother stated, "if y'all gonna take 'em, take 'em," McCoy wrote.

Thomas replied "OK" to investigators when told that her 12-year-old son's injuries had been verified as abusive. Janiya was not in the state of Florida, she also reportedly told them.

When Thomas arrived at the CPID office with the toddler, who appeared happy and healthy, Thomas said she had a cousin willing to take the children, investigators said.

Following a home visit with the cousin where her home was deemed appropriate and arrangements were already being made, three of the children were placed hours later.

From Sept. 25 until Oct. 3, the reports only notes refer to uploading a referral, taking one of the children to the doctor and email correspondence between investigators and DCF.

On Oct. 3, the investigator spoke with Bradenton Police Detective Eleazar Garcia, the detective assigned to investigate the abuse alleged on Sept. 23. Garcia said he was away for training, and didn't initially received the case because it was listed as "a juvenile problem/suspicious circumstance" case. But he said he "would get back to CPS ASAP," the report states.

On Oct. 5, the notes show investigators asked Thomas again about Janiya's whereabouts.

"The mother stated she was with someone on her father's side of the family and last the mother knew the child was in New Jersey," McCoy wrote in the report.

Thomas could not tell investigators specifically who Janiya was with or where the court custody documentation took place. The documents were at home, Thomas told them, and agreed to call when she got home to give a location.

On Oct. 9, Thomas was called by an investigator to follow-up on the location, and Thomas did not answer. Thomas also failed to show up for an interview at the Bradenton Police Department in reference to the allegations of abuse.

On Oct. 15, investigators went to Thomas' home and job in unsuccessful attempts to meet with her. Later that day, investigators met with Janiya's grandmother.

"She advised that she was custodian over Janiya until her mother, Keishanna, came and took her away sometime in 2014," investigator Paula Styles wrote.

The grandmother referred to Janiya as a "black china doll" when asked about her health issues. She also told them Janiya was her favorite and that she had heard Janiya was in Port Charlotte, but did not know of any relatives there.

The grandmother told investigators "she wanted to ask about Janiya but she is so afraid that her daughter will not speak with her again," documents show.

On Oct. 16, Thomas appeared in court and received the motion to produce Janiya, according to the report. Thomas invoked her right to remain silent and was detained. On that date, the case notes state, CPS made the request to put an alert out for Janiya.

It was only afterward that the great grandmother called police to say that Thomas had delivered a padlocked refrigerator to her house and left it. That's where authorities finally found Janiya's body.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.

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