Jahi Turner vanished without a trace from a South Park neighborhood playground in San Diego, California, in 2002. Fourteen years later, law enforcement officials have arrested the then-2-year-old boy’s stepfather Tieray Jones.
The Washington Post reports District Attorney Bonnie Dunamis spoke at a news conference on Monday, revealing Jones was arrested without incident by U.S. Marshals and local police officers in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a small town 50 miles east of Raleigh.
Flowers set up at park by private investigator to honor Jahi Turner. pic.twitter.com/ZtziP0vSwQ
— Artie Ojeda (@ArtieNBCSD) April 19, 2016
San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said Tieray Jones’ arrest stemmed from a fugitive complaint lodged in North Carolina. Officials confirmed the 37-year-old suspect was charged with one count of felony child abuse causing death and one count of murder. His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.
If convicted in Jahi Turner’s disappearance and death, Jones is facing up to 50 years in prison. If the accused chooses not to fight his extradition, he will be returned to San Diego to face trial within the next 30 days.
Authorities have not disclosed what led to the arrest of the toddler’s stepfather. District Attorney Dunamis told journalists she always wondered if “this day would come,” describing the protracted case as one that “weighed heavily on all our hearts” and rocked the closely knit South Park community to the core.
— 10News (@10News) April 19, 2016
Jahi lived in a Golden Hill apartment with his stepfather and 18-year-old mother, Tameka Jones, who was a Navy sailor. Tameka Jones was serving her country aboard USS Rushmore when her son was reported missing.
Tieray Jones initially told police he took Jahi Turner to the playground. However, he reportedly left him with a woman and several other children while he walked to a vending machine to get a can of soda. When he returned, the woman and children seemingly vanished into thin air.
Neighbor Michelle Keperling recalls the disappearance of the young boy.
“This hit so close to home for me back then and now. Little Jahi shares a birthday with my son and they would both be 16 today if he wasn’t so tragically taken from his family… I can’t imagine what his family has been going through the last 14 years.”
Authorities refused to comment on rumors that Jahi was never at the playground that day. According to reports, the toddler’s fingerprints were not found on any of the playground equipment. Tieray Jones’ story was also questioned, as he failed a lie detector test.
Jahi Turner’s disappearance triggered weeks of highly concentrated searches through fields, canyons, neighborhoods, and the Miramar Landfill, where people raked through 5,000 tons of garbage for more than one week looking for clues in the toddler’s disappearance.
Although Jahi was considered a homicide victim, the 2-year-old’s body was never found.
Seven months after the toddler’s disappearance, Tieray Jones was arrested by a bounty hunter in San Diego and transferred to Maryland on drug charges. In 2006, he pleaded no contest to a shooting charge and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Over the next 14 years, there were few developments in Jahi Turner’s disappearance. However, District Attorney Bonnie Dunamis said she and her colleagues “never gave up on finding justice for Jahi.”
“In 2003, we assigned a prosecutor and full-time investigator to the case. Unfortunately, at the time we didn’t have the evidence required, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, to proceed with criminal charges.”
Dunamis is hopeful that the arrest of Tieray Jones and the charges brought against him will bring closure and help the community heal after being so deeply affected by a young boy whose life was cut far too short.
Tieray Jones’ arrest comes exactly one week before the 14th anniversary of Jahi Turner’s disappearance.
[Image via WNCN]