(SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - At 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was at the home of 16-month-old Semaj Crosby, investigating a child-neglect allegation, but saw “no obvious hazards or safety concerns” for Semaj or her two brothers, state officials said.
About two-and-a-half hours later, the baby girl disappeared, prompting a massive search of the subdivision near Joliet.
But late Wednesday, police found Semaj’s lifeless body inside the same home that DCFS had apparently deemed safe the day before, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
And on Thursday, a top police official said that house was in “very deplorable” condition, adding that a lawyer for the girl’s mother made them get a search warrant before they entered it and found the girl.
The series of events has led authorities to open a “suspicious death” investigation into the tragedy, said Rick Ackerson, investigations deputy chief with the Will County sheriff’s office. No one was in custody and no criminal charges had been filed as of Friday afternoon.
The Will County coroner’s office is awaiting the results of lab testing and toxicology reports to make a final determination on the cause of her death, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. However, there were “no visible signs of blunt force trauma or physical injury to the body of Semaj Crosby to indicate the exact cause of death.”
Semaj was last seen about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, playing with between six and eight other children outside her home near Luana Road and Richards Street in unincorporated Joliet, according to the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office and FBI executed the search warrant about 11 p.m. Wednesday at the home in the 300 block of Louis Road and found Semaj dead about midnight.
Her body was found underneath a couch, according to the sheriff’s office. Investigators found no damage to the couch that would indicate her body was placed inside or through it.
Ackerson said Semaj’s mother was not as forthcoming as she could have been: “I won’t say totally reluctant, but I wouldn’t say 100 percent cooperative, either.”
At some point, Ackerson added, the family retained an attorney, who “interjected himself in the case, and cut us off. He said we were not allowed in the house without a search warrant. . . .”
“The house was in very deplorable condition,” Ackerson said, noting that five to 15 people were living there at any given time. Other than the mother and her three children, the attorney for the family described the other people living in the house as “squatters.”
Maria Jones’ house is at Louis Road and Richards Street, just four houses down from where Semaj lived.
Jones, 60, said the family has lived in the house for about a year. She said police had been called to the residence at least twice in that time, although she didn’t know the reason.
“We’d be sitting out on the patio, and they were always cussin’ and fussin’,” said Jones. “You’d see people coming and going all the time.”
All of those people, Ackerson said, are being sought for questioning.
“We’re going to try to interview everybody who was there,” Ackerson said. He also wants another interview with the mother, “just to get her side of the story again.”
The mother also has two sons, and both were still in her care Thursday morning, Ackerson said, adding that DCFS would be responsible for determining whether to remove the children from the mother’s care. The oldest of the two is 13, he said.
A DCFS spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday afternoon, citing the ongoing investigations by police and the agency.
“We will continue to find out why this ended in such a tragic way,” Ackerson said.
Ackerson had noted that police had previously been called to the home a few times, most recently for a “domestic situation” on Easter Sunday. No arrests were made in that incident.
DCFS has been working with the family since September 2016, with four unfounded investigations for neglect, and two other pending investigations for neglect opened in March 2017, agency officials said.