BRADENTON (FOX 13) - The safety net meant to protect Florida’s most vulnerable children was not enough for Janiya Thomas.
Detectives found a body believed to be the 11-year-old’s in a freezer Sunday night, 23 days after investigators from Child Protective Services started asking where she was.
Child protection investigators had opened cases about he mother, 31-year-old Keishanna Thomas, many times before.
Late Monday afternoon, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office announced the September investigation was their 10th involving Keishanna since 2003. The department had initially reported having one other case involving the mother that had closed in June 2014.
In the course of what’s now become a homicide investigation, detectives learned the last time she was seen was in August 2014.
A spokeswoman with the Department of Children and Families says that children were never removed from Keishanna’s custody until Friday. Four other children – ages 2, 9, 15 and 12 – are now in state custody.
MCSO says the latest investigation began on September 23, after the department received a report of possible child abuse involving Janiya’s brother at a Walmart store. According to MCSO, when investigators inquired about her five children, she had different stories about the whereabouts of her 2- and 11-year-old.
The 2-year-old later showed up, but Janiya did not.
At one point, Keishanna reported that Janiya was out-of-state. She told investigators she’d provide them with contact information so they could verify the child’s whereabouts, according to MCSO.
Days turned to weeks.
“There was a hearing coming up so we were trying to locate her,” Bristow said, saying they were following leads that she had been seen in a Sarasota school. When Keishanna faced the judge for the October 16 hearing, she was given an ultimatum.
“The judge said, we need to know now: Where is the 11-year-old? And she took the Fifth,” Bristow said. Keishanna was booked without bond for being in contempt of court.
As for why it took more than three weeks for child protective investigators to determine Jailyn was not where Keishanna said she was, MCSO spokesman Dave Bristow says the mother “kept stringing us along.”
“We get it all the time,” Bristow said about parents having different stories for where their kids are. “In 99.9 percent of the cases, the children do show up.”