Man, that Precious Doe case in Kansas City is grusome. I’m sure glad stuff like that doesn’t happen in Canada…

Wait-a-minute…

“But children should not be thrown away as trash. That was something we thought all along – that this city should never forget about this. What sort of community can we have if people could let this happen and then just forget?”

Alonzo Washington, Kansas City

Uhhh… Eastern Townships?… I hope you’re listening…

Kansas City Solves a Mystery, With Relief and Chills

By MONICA DAVEY
New York Times
Published: May 6, 2005

For four years, people in Kansas City, Mo., would not let go of the mystery of the small girl whose naked body was found in some brush in a city neighborhood and whose head was found, a few days later, dumped in a black trash bag.

The death was grisly enough. But the thought that no one even knew her name – that no family was missing her or searching for her or mourning her – sent the local community into a frenzy of prayer vigils, newspaper advertising and memorial building that went on for years.

Then, finally, thanks to someone who read yet another of those ads last week, Kansas City learned yesterday that the girl it had come to call “Precious Doe” had a real name.

She was Erica Michelle Marie Green. She was 3. She had full cheeks, neatly kept hair and had come to Kansas City with her family from Oklahoma.

“Today is the day we have closure for the Kansas City community,” James Corwin, the police chief, said on Thursday. Officials, including Mayor Kay Barnes, described the development as bittersweet: sweet for the city’s refusal to leave Precious Doe’s mystery unanswered, bitter for what the authorities said they had learned about Erica’s short life and gruesome death.

Mike Sanders, the prosecutor for Jackson County, announced second-degree murder and child endangerment charges against Erica’s mother, Michelle M. Johnson, 30, and her stepfather, Harrell Johnson, 25.

Earlier this week, Ms. Johnson, who lives in Muskogee, Okla., admitted to the police that her daughter, Erica, was indeed Precious Doe, the girl whose body was found decapitated in Kansas City on April 28, 2001, according to court documents filed by the prosecutor’s office.

Before Easter of 2001, the Johnsons were visiting friends in Kansas City and searching for work when, at one point, Mr. Johnson kicked Erica in the head, Ms. Johnson told the police, according to the documents.

Mr. Johnson told police he had been drinking and using PCP before becoming angry at Erica because she refused to go to bed, according to the court documents. He said he grabbed the girl, and threw her to the ground while kicking her. About 10 hours later, he said, she died.

After Erica fell unconscious, the pair did not seek medical help. They were afraid, Ms. Johnson said, because they both had criminal warrants out against them at the time.

Two days later, Ms. Johnson told the police, the pair carried the girl’s body from the house where they had been staying to a church parking lot near a wooded area, according to the court documents. Mr. Johnson, she said, used hedge clippers to cut Erica’s head off, before disposing of both parts of her body.

Since their search began in 2001, the authorities followed thousands of leads, compared the fingerprints of children known to be missing, and released artists’ visions of what Precious Doe might have looked like.

Meanwhile, members of the community pledged not to forget. They built a memorial – two simple cement benches – for Precious Doe in Hibbs Park, not far from where her body was found. They held rallies and vigils and raised reward money and appeared on national television shows seeking help.

Still, by this year, some people seemed to have lost hope that the girl would ever be identified. “No one thought it would be,” said Donna Stewart, the publisher of The Kansas City Call, a weekly newspaper aimed at the local black community.

But some elected officials and activists, like Alonzo Washington, who led community pressure to keep the investigation alive, said they felt compelled to press on.

“Some people were saying I was obsessed, that this was a waste of time, that I was just seeking publicity,” Mr. Washington said Thursday.

“But children should not be thrown away as trash. That was something we thought all along – that this city should never forget about this. What sort of community can we have if people could let this happen and then just forget?”

In late April, an advertisement ran in The Call, in which Mr. Washington reminded readers of Precious Doe and asked that another prayer vigil be held on April 28, the fourth anniversary of her body being found.

With that, the authorities said, a man from Muskogee – who happened to subscribe to The Call – telephoned the police late last week and named the Johnsons.

The man, whom the authorities declined to identify but who Mr. Washington said was an older relative of Erica, collected hair from Ms. Johnson and an old photograph of Erica and her family and sent it along to Kansas City, Mr. Washington said. The hair was used, he said, to make a DNA match with Precious Doe.

Mr. Washington said the caller tried to contact the police in Kansas City a year ago, but that his tip had been dismissed. Mr. Sanders, the prosecutor, said the earlier tip had apparently lacked detail.

“The death of this little girl has touched our community in a way that I think is absolutely unprecedented,” Mr. Sanders said. “We hope that by having her name that this can finally begin to bring some closure and some healing to the community.”

In Hibbs Park, near the memorial, people came and went on Thursday, some carrying balloons and teddy bears. Someone had added a sign bearing Erica’s real name. They said they felt relief, but also new pain.

Ron Hunt, another local activist who had worked hard on the case, said the city had learned a crucial lesson. “We’ve got to be a family,” he said. “That’s very important – family and watching after our children. I thank God for grandparents.”

Kevin Shell, a father of three, wept as he spoke of the girl he used to call Precious Doe. “They say it’s hard to love someone you don’t know but I do,” he said, clutching one of his children. “I feel like she’s my daughter.”

Erica Green would have been 8 in a few weeks.

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