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Jahmeshia's Family Questions Police Priorities As Investigation Continues

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Dec 2, 2009 3:20PM

Family Photo of Jameshia, via the Trib
As the family of Jahmeshia Conner struggles to accept the girl's murder - ruled a death by strangulation by the Cook County medical examiner's office - and police search for clues in the case, family members are beginning to question the police response to the initial report that the 12-year-old girl had gone missing. Family members say the last time Jahmeshia was seen was on the night of Sunday, November 15, when her aunt watched her board a CTA bus. By 3 a.m., she had not returned home, though Jameshia's mother at that time assumed the girl had stayed the night at her aunt's house. When she didn't come home from school on the afternoon of the 16th, almost 24 hours after the girl had last been seen, the family contacted police.

As for how the case was classified, things get a bit hinky with media reports. The Trib claims, "Chicago police said detectives promptly launched a 'priority' missing persons investigation after being contacted at 5 p.m." Meanwhile, the Sun-Times, trumpeting their 2007 series, "Missing in Chicago," says the girl wasn't considered a priority as she was too old to be considered a "priority" case: "children under 10, the elderly and those deemed 'endangered,' like the mentally ill."

The Sun-Times continued:

"You mean to tell me a 12-year-old wouldn't be considered priority? A 12-year-old?" Jahmeshia's aunt, Rita McMurray, wailed on Tuesday, as the family piled into three cars to take Jahmeshia's catatonic mother to the morgue to identify her daughter's body...

"They told us we had to wait 48 hours before they'd start investigating," McMurray said. "They said she was a runaway. We said, 'Not this girl.' She was a good girl. She never missed school, and stayed in the church. They didn't take it seriously."

A police spokesman defended the department's response, contending they distributed fliers and talked to neighbors, and also pointed out the first 24 hours in which the family didn't report the girl missing because of the miscommunication between her mother and aunt. The extra wait seems to have hampered at least one aspect of the search efforts: attempts to recover surveillance footage from the CTA bus Jahmeshia boarded proved fruitless as by the time police got the tape, surveillance from that night had been recorded over by the new day's footage.

As for the allegation that police classified her as a runaway, the Trib reports:

Chicago Deputy Superintendent Steve Peterson said Jahmeshia never was classified as a "runaway."

However, Jahmeshia did somehow get listed as an "endangered runaway" with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Robert Lowery, of the center, said the information they had about Jahmeshia came from a national crime database, which typically gets details from local departments.

Amidst the questioning of their protocol, police continue to investigate the murder, trying to retrace Jahmeshia's steps - her aunt's house where she was seen boarding the bus is only seven blocks from her own home - and where she was for those two weeks she was missing. Investigators believe that the girl had been dead for no more than a day when her body was found on Monday.