Crime

Mom of missing Florida girl silent on case; body found in family freezer

Video: Neighbor speaks on case of missing Bradenton girl Janiya Thomas

Maria Barger, who lives across the street from a family member of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas, speaks about how the Bradenton girl's family has reacted to news. Video by Bradenton Herald
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Maria Barger, who lives across the street from a family member of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas, speaks about how the Bradenton girl's family has reacted to news. Video by Bradenton Herald

Keishanna Thomas again refused Tuesday morning to tell a judge anything about what happened to her missing and now presumed dead 11-year-old daughter Janiya, as a new police report detailed abuse investigators say the girl suffered at the hands of her mother.

Thomas was arrested Friday when the Manatee County Sheriff's Office's Child Protective Investigations unit entered her apartment at the Village at Cortez, 4880 51st St. W., to remove her five children from her custody over a child abuse investigation concerning her 12-year-old son. Law enforcement could only find four of her children, and Keishanna Thomas refused to discuss the whereabouts of Janiya.

Relatives of Keishanna Thomas called police Sunday to report that Thomas had dropped a locked freezer off at their home in the 5000 block of 21st Way East, Bradenton, on Wednesday, and they had just opened it and discovered a body inside. Bradenton police are currently waiting on the medical examiner to identify the body, but they believe it is Janiya.

Thomas is now facing charges of aggravated child abuse, child abuse and contempt of court. She is being held in the Manatee County jail without bond.

Thomas appeared before Circuit Judge Diana Moreland Tuesday morning to address the contempt charge.

"She is not going to be making any statements at all," Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts said on behalf of Thomas.

Roberts added that it was her constitutional right not to say anything.

Moreland said once a contempt of court order has been enforced, there are very few reasons the law allows for the contempt to be set aside, all of which surround the Constitution.

"Unless one of the grounds is raised, I have to continue to enforce it," Moreland said.

Thomas will appear before Moreland again Thursday morning, to discuss the contempt of court order.

Thomas' children last week told the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Child Protective Investigations unit that Keishanna Thomas would lock Janiya in the bathroom, and that they hadn't seen the girl for more than a year, according to a new police report in a child abuse case against Thomas.

According to a report dated Monday, detectives said the last time Janiya was physically seen was June 9, 2014. When investigators last week asked Thomas' other children about Janiya's location, one said, "I don't know where she is, one day we went to school and came back, she was just gone."

Three of Keishanna Thomas' other children, ages 15, 12 and 9, were interviewed by investigators about the whereabouts of Janiya, after Thomas' refusal to speak on the matter in court. None of the children knew where Janiya was and said they hadn't seen her in a long time, according to the report.

Thomas has been charged with child abuse for allegedly hitting and punching her 12-year-old son after he was caught shoplifting at the Walmart Supercenter at 5315 Cortez Road W. The investigation into that incident prompted the removal of the children on Friday, which was the 10th Child Protective Services investigation since 2003 concerning Thomas.

One child said Thomas would punish Janiya for soiling herself by locking her in the bathroom for long periods of time, typically about a week. Lt. James Racky, spokesman of the Bradenton Police Department, said Janiya had a medical condition that affected her digestion and bowel movements and could not always tell when she had to go to the bathroom.

The child told police that Janiya would have to sleep and eat in the bathroom, and Thomas would put a case in front of the door so she couldn't get out, according to the report. Janiya would try to sneak out sometimes, the juvenile said, so Thomas would sleep in the front room so she could catch her. If Janiya was caught sneaking out Thomas would threaten to beat her if she didn't return to the bathroom, according to the report.

The child said Janiya spent her birthdays locked in the bathroom and the other children would bring meals to her there. Thomas would also beat Janiya with a belt or punch her as punishment for soiling herself.

When police asked the juvenile what his gut told him about where his sister was, he said, according to the report, "I think she is dead or something."

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