When people walked up to Hollywood Police Chief Frank Fernandez at a street festival Sunday — not far from where 3-year-old Ahizya Osceola was reported missing and later found dead — he had a clear message: “This was an isolated incident within the family.”
“Everyone needs to know that their children are safe,” he said.
The Party on the J, Johnson Street International Festival, was scheduled long before Ahizya Osceola was reported missing, but organizers said the festival — meant to give attention to the small businesses in the area and bring the community together — could not be held without remembering the little boy. The day began with a moment of silence in his honor.
“There is no way we could have had this party without acknowledging Ahizya,” said Idelma Quintana, who helped organize the event, which included entertainment, food and children’s activities. “We are all a part of this community.”
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On Thursday, Hollywood police received a report of a missing toddler from Seminole police, who got a call from Ahizya’s stepmother’s mother. In a city known for the disappearance of 7-year-old Adam Walsh from the Sears department store in 1981, the response was immediate.
Law enforcement officials automatically launched an exhaustive search, which included helicopters, dogs and going door to door passing out fliers with a picture of the little boy with a big smile.
The boy had been living with his father, Nelson Osceola, and stepmother. Police said that when his father left for work at about 8 a.m., the boy was sleeping. He was left in the care of his stepmother.
Ahizya’s mother, Karen Cypress, who had not seen her son since December, pleaded with the public for the safe return of her son.
By Friday morning, Fernandez had the news he hated having to deliver: The little boy was found dead in an “obscure” place inside the home. He said the boy could not have gotten into the position on his own. It had taken police 12 hours to find him. Fernandez said that shortly after delivering the news, officers again went door to door, this time letting them know that Ahizya’s disappearance was an isolated issue.
“We want to be as open as we possibly can,” Fernandez said.
The Department of Children & Families later said that state investigators had four interactions with Ahizya since 2013, most recently in February at his father’s home.
By Sunday, Fernandez said detectives were investigating the case as a homicide but were still awaiting the medical examiner’s report.
“We continue interviewing people who may know more about the history of the family and anyone that can provide clarity to the circumstances of this particular incident,” he said.
No one had been arrested as of Sunday. A shelter hearing for Ahizya’s two siblings from the Osceola home originally scheduled for Saturday was rescheduled for Monday afternoon. The siblings are temporarily in the custody of their aunt.
Fernandez said it was important for him and his force to be out in the community and quell some nerves.
“Everyone felt this,” he said.
Jane Rand, who pushed her Shih Tzu Tinkerbell in a stroller, stopped Fernandez to show her appreciation for how he handled the case.
“Thank you for being so strong,” said the Hollywood resident, who came to support the local businesses.
About two blocks from the festival, which included about 60 booths representing local businesses, there was a growing memorial for Ahizya, with balloons, action figures, teddy bears and candles.
Hollywood resident Martha Chavarria came to the memorial near the home at 5420 Johnson St. with her 5-year-old son Mateo to drop off a blue stuffed bunny.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said as she held her son tight. “A child cannot defend himself.”
Hollywood Commissioner Traci Callari, who came out for the festival, took a walk over to the memorial to pay her respects for the little boy.
“This is a tight-knit community,” she said. “It is devastating for all of us.”