When little Ahizya Osceola jumped onto his grandfather’s lap at a birthday party in December, the child cried out in pain. His buttocks were bruised and he had a bruise next to his eye, grandpa Kenneth Tommie said.
“He said, ‘Oh Pappa, it hurts,’” said Tommie. Tommie and the toddler’s mother, Karen Cypress, took the child to Hollywood Memorial Hospital. It was the last time they saw Ahizya — who lived with his father after his parents’ divorce — alive.
Late Thursday night after an exhaustive search by detectives and bloodhounds, Hollywood police found Ahizya’s tiny 45-pound frame hidden from view inside his father’s home, the body contorted at an angle in which police said it would have been impossible for the child to position himself.
“The body wasn’t visible; we had to go looking for it,” Hollywood Police Chief Frank Fernandez said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Ahizya’s father, Nelson Osceola, 24, and his mother, Cypress, 26, who live only a few blocks apart, divorced more than two years ago. Osceola remarried but retained custody of his son. Ahizya was reported missing about three hours after his father went to work around 8 a.m. on Thursday.
Fernandez said detectives are interviewing anyone with access to the home, including friends and family. Also on the list are Osceola and his wife. Fernandez said that as of late Friday afternoon, everyone was being cooperative. It took police two searches of the home and almost 12 hours to find the child.
“In the initial search we went through the entire house with gloves and still couldn’t find the child,” said Fernandez. “We went inch by inch, room by room, until we made the unfortunate discovery.”
A report from the Department of Children & Families shows state investigators have had four interactions with Ahizya since 2013, most recently in February at his father’s home, where they said there were “no indicators” of physical injury on Ahizya. The report says Ahizya lived in the home with his father, his stepmother, a 5-year-old sibling and two adult brothers of his stepmother.
Police were first alerted to the missing child at 11:48 a.m. Thursday by the Seminole Tribe, which had received the initial frantic call from Osceola’s wife. Police said they raced to the white single-story ranch home at 5420 Johnson St. and after receiving consent to enter, spent several hours looking, but found nothing.
So detectives spread out, scouring nearby fields and parks with bloodhounds, and searching canals and lakes with divers. That, too, proved fruitless. Cypress, clutching a photo of her missing son, begged for the public’s help.
“He’s my life,” she said. “I just want him home.”
Stymied in their search of the neighborhood, Fernandez said detectives again began to focus on the home. The second time, he said, they discovered the boy’s body, just before midnight Thursday. Still, it wasn’t until past 5 a.m. that Hollywood police sent out an email informing the public.
“Due to developments in the case the Hollywood Police Department is no longer seeking the public’s assistance in searching for 3-year-old Ahizya Osceola. All law enforcement search efforts for the child have ended,” police said.
Three hours later, Fernandez faced the cameras and told the public the child was dead. The home remained roped off with police tape, a crime-scene investigation truck parked on the median in front. Also parked at the home before the chief’s announcement: the Broward County Medical Examiner’s truck.
Ahizya “was found deceased inside the household” in an “obscure” location, the chief said. “The child did not place himself in that position.”
The search for Ahizya and the media crowd that gathered in the quiet tree-lined residential neighborhood of West Hollywood prompted cars to stop to ask what had happened, and neighbors leaving their homes to peek at the commotion. Kelli Holt was pushing a stroller carrying her 2-year-old.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “How can this happen to an innocent little kid?”
Interviews with family and police painted a picture of a troubled family on the radar of two child advocacy agencies. The state’s Department of Children & Families has four reports related to Ahizya since 2013. A January 2014 agency report shows that Ahizya and his siblings were removed from his mother Cypress’ custody after Ahizya was found wandering in a hotel lobby “while the mother was under the influence in her room.”
A report in April 2014 looking into possible physical injury to Ahizya and naming his father the likely perpetrator was closed as “not substantiated.” Then in February, DCF was again alerted to the family about possible physical injury to Ahizya.
“The alleged perpetrator was unknown, however it was suspected the abuse was occurring at the father’s residence,” the report said. The report says Cypress, the boy’s mother, had weekly visitation rights.
Tommie, the child’s grandfather, described his daughter’s relationship with her former husband as “strained,” and said the couple were divorced more than two years ago. He said his daughter had recently regained permission to see her son after completing court-ordered parenting classes. Cypress had custody of 1-year-old twins, Ahizya’s siblings, Tommie said.
WSVN Channel 7 reported that both parents have arrest records, Cypress on a charge of child neglect and Osceola more recently on a charge of battery. The arrests could not be confirmed on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s website Friday.
Tommie also said that after the December incident in which he found his grandson injured, the family contacted the Seminole Tribe’s Family Services division. Fernandez said his department contacted the state’s Department of Children & Families also in December, after police were called to Osceola’s home for a “child neglect” issue.
As of late Friday afternoon, Tommie said police detectives still had not contacted his daughter for a formal interview.
Friday night, DCF removed and took custody of Ahizya's two siblings from Osceola's home. A shelter hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Broward County Courthouse.
“I’m hanging in there for my daughter,” Tommie said.