BRADENTON, FL (WFLA) – The aunt of a missing 11-year-old girl told News Channel 8 she’s “too upset to talk.” A body discovered in a deep freezer at a Bradenton home on Sunday night is believed to be that of the girl, Janiya Thomas, who has not been seen since August 2014.
The 11-year-old’s mother, Keishanna Thomas, age 31, is in jail. She’s charged with two counts of aggravated child abuse in connection with incidents involving her 12-year-old son. (Read arrest affidavit for one incident here.) Officials say she is not cooperating.
Police say the body was found in the garage of a home in the 5000 block of 21st Way East in Bradenton. That’s the home of Janiya Thomas’ grandmother and aunt. They tell detectives the girl’s mother, Keishanna Thomas, dropped the freezer off earlier in the week. The aunt said the girl’s mother asked her to bring the freezer in.
Officials decided to break the lock and look inside Sunday night after they learned Janiya was missing. Police planned to turn over the body to the medical examiner’s office Monday to determine identity and cause of death.
The state was investigating a child abuse complaint against Keishanna Thomas earlier this month when they discovered one of her five children was missing. Detectives say records show state workers last made contact with Janiya in August 2014.
The disturbing case has many people wondering how a child could vanish undetected for more than a year. The Manatee County School District told News Channel 8 that Janiya had not been seen in school since May of 2013. Keishanna Thomas told the school district that her daughter was being home schooled. When the school district didn’t get the annual home school evaluation from Janiya’s mother, they followed up in 2014. At that time, district officials were told “Janiya no longer lives in the district.”
On Friday, the Bradenton Police Department was contacted by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to help search for Janiya. Janiya’s family lived at the Village at Cortez Apartments, 4880 51st St W.
Detectives originally arrested Keishanna Thomas on Friday for contempt of court after she refused to answer questions about Janiya’s whereabouts. Her four other children are now in state custody.
Detectives plan to interview a man on Monday who they believe helped Thomas drop off the freezer at the home last week.
Child Protective Services has investigated Keishanna Thomas 10 times since 2003. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families said, “The circumstances surrounding the death of Janiya Thomas are deeply disturbing.”
DCF has dispatched a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team to investigate. They will work with the sheriff’s office to review all cases with this family and find out what went wrong. After the work is complete, the report will be made public.
Local residents are shocked that this happened in their quiet neighborhood. “Everybody’s still in shock. Nobody understands what’s going on and why this happened,” Family friend Maria Barger said. “We would’ve took her, anyone of us would. We got a couple of family members that live here on the street and they even said the same thing. They’ve got grandkids and everything else, they would’ve taken her.”