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.