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updated: 4/27/2017 3:02 PM

Missing Joliet toddler's death 'suspicious,' authorities say

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  • Video: Missing baby found dead

  • Will County Sheriff's Department Deputy Chief Rick Ackerson speaks Thursday during a news conference on the death of 1½-year-old Semaj Crosby in Joliet. Crosby, who was reported missing Tuesday evening, was founded dead Wednesday night at her family's residence. The little girl was the subject of an intense manhunt from Tuesday evening until late Wednesday night when her body was found inside the house. Ackerson said no one is in custody as of Thursday.

    Will County Sheriff's Department Deputy Chief Rick Ackerson speaks Thursday during a news conference on the death of 1½-year-old Semaj Crosby in Joliet. Crosby, who was reported missing Tuesday evening, was founded dead Wednesday night at her family's residence. The little girl was the subject of an intense manhunt from Tuesday evening until late Wednesday night when her body was found inside the house. Ackerson said no one is in custody as of Thursday.
    Associated Press

  • Emergency divers search the water in a nearby retention pond while searching for 1½-year-old Semaj Crosby in Joliet.

    Emergency divers search the water in a nearby retention pond while searching for 1½-year-old Semaj Crosby in Joliet.
    Associated Press

  • Will County Sheriff's Department Deputy Chief Rick Ackerson speaks Thursday during a news conference on the death of 1½-year-old Semaj Crosby in Joliet.

    Will County Sheriff's Department Deputy Chief Rick Ackerson speaks Thursday during a news conference on the death of 1½-year-old Semaj Crosby in Joliet.
    Associated Press

 
 

JOLIET -- The body of a 1½-year-old girl was found at a "deplorable" northern Illinois home that she and her mother shared with squatters after her mother reluctantly allowed detectives inside to search and a day after she reported her daughter missing, police said Thursday.

Will County Sheriff's Department Deputy Chief Rick Ackerson said during a news conference that Semaj Crosby's death was "suspicious," but that an autopsy is not yet complete.

Ackerson said the investigation was hindered by the girl's mother refusal until late Wednesday night to allow authorities to search the house in Joliet, a city about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. The mother initially spoke to investigators, but later refused to answer questions on the advice of an attorney, he said. At one point during an interview with investigators at the house, she fell silent after another resident pounded on the door and shouted for her to stop talking.

Ackerson said it wasn't clear who was in the house when the girl disappeared, explaining that the attorney for the mother said that from five to 15 squatters "come and go as they please."

"The house was in very deplorable conditions," Ackerson said, without elaborating.

The mother reported her daughter missing on Tuesday, sparking a massive hunt involving dozens of volunteers and law enforcement officers, as well as drones and bloodhounds.

The girl disappeared from outside the house shortly after a visit from Department of Children and Family Services officials who were investigating an allegation of neglect made against the mother. They saw Semaj and the woman's other two children and saw no apparent hazards or anything else that raised concerns about the children's safety, Ackerson said.

Ackerson said the mother still has the two other children but that they are no longer staying at her Joliet home.

Until they found the body, the sheriff's department said investigators suspected that Semaj had probably wandered off and perhaps had hidden herself somewhere and fallen asleep. On Thursday, Ackerson said that deputies had made a "cursory" search of the residence on Tuesday and did not find the girl. And, he said, based on statements from credible witnesses who saw the girl outside the house shortly before she vanished, authorities believed the girl was not inside.

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