Crime

Siblings of missing Bradenton girl tell police: We haven’t seen her in more than a year

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

— Janiya Thomas’ siblings told investigators it had been more than a year since they last saw their sister, who was often locked in a bathroom for up to a week and how their mother Keishanna Thomas would beat or punch her.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Investigations Division last saw Janiya on June 9, 2014, according to a police report charging her mother with aggravated child abuse.

One of Janiya’s siblings told investigators on Saturday, “I don’t know where she is, one day we went to school and came back, she was just gone.”

Thomas was arrested Friday when the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s Child Protective Investigations unit entered her apartment at the Village at Cortezto remove her five children 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 Bradenton home on Wednesday. After seeing news that Janiya was missing they became suspicious, broke it open and discovered a body inside.

Bradenton police are waiting on the medical examiner to identify the body, but they believe it is Janiya.

The sheriff’s office said Tuesday the Florida Department of Children and Families would be releasing reports dealing with prior investigations dealing with Janiya. The sheriff’s office has 10 closed investigations into Thomas involving her children.

Keishanna Thomas remained in custody in the Manatee County jail without bond, after refusing again Tuesday morning to tell a judge what happened to her daughter Janiya. She is facing charges of aggravated child abuse, child abuse and contempt of court.

We just can’t have our children missing for more than a year and nobody notice anything

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radziloski

Three of Keishanna Thomas’ other children, ages 15, 12 and 9, were interviewed by investigators Saturday about the whereabouts of Janiya. 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 a Walmart Supercenter in Manatee County. 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.

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

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. Bradenton Police Lt. James Racky 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 beat Janiya with a belt or punch her as punishment for soiling herself, he said.

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

Prior to Friday when Janiya was officially reported missing, Bradenton police had responded to her mother’s apartment five times since August:

• On Aug. 15, police were dispatched to reports of a disturbance at the home and left 31 minutes later.

• On Aug. 27, police were dispatched to respond to reports of a juvenile problem and left the home 59 minutes later.

• On Aug. 23 police were dispatched twice and on Aug. 24 once, regarding the incident with her 12-year-old son in which she faces a charge of child abuse.

The Department of Children and Families Critical Incident Rapid Response Team is working with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to review all the details and prior involvement with the family.

Bradenton police say they were not informed of the missing girl until about 8 p.m. Friday, according to Police Chief Michael Radziloski.

“We are looking at who knew what, when did they know and what did they do about it,” Radzilowski said. “The sheriff’s office is looking into their conduct to see if there is anything.”

Children are of the utmost importance, the chief said, adding, “We just can’t have our children missing for more than a year and nobody notice anything.”

“I’m not accusing anybody of dropping the ball, but we are trying to determine if somebody did drop the ball,” Radzilowski said. “From the second we were notified about it, we jumped on it with both feet.”

Sheriff’s office spokesman Dave Bristow said they will be reviewing their procedures, as they do with any child death.

Thomas appeared before Circuit Judge Diana Moreland on 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, saying it was her constitutional right not to say anything.

Moreland said that 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 was ordered to appear again before Moreland at 8 a.m. Thursday morning to discuss the contempt of court order.

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