GLENDALE -- Police in Glendale are gearing up to search a Mobile landfill for the body of Jhessye Shockley, the 5-year-old who vanished in early October.
The little girl was last seen at her Glendale apartment on Oct. 11. Since then, she has been the center of a massive search. According to Sgt. Brent Coombs, detectives developed information that the girl had been killed and her body dumped in a Tempe trash bin.
Trash from the location is taken to the WMI Butterfield Station Landfill in Mobile, which is about an hour southwest of Phoenix.
Officers arrested the little girl's mother, Jerice Hunter, on Nov. 21, but later released her when the County Attorney's Office decided it needed more evidence to move forward with any potential prosecution.
"We are awaiting the results of additional investigation by Glendale Police before making a charging decision," said Jerry Cobb, a public information officer for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, in an e-mail to 3TV a weeks after Hunter's arrest.
Court documents released the day after Hunter's arrest detail a litany of accusations, including allegations by Jhessye's teenage sister that Hunter locked the little girl in a closet. The teen also said Hunter told her and her siblings to lie to the police about Jhessye being missing.
Since Hunter's arrest, police have maintained that she is the focus of the investigation.
Hunter, who spent time in prison in California for child abuse, has steadfastly denied any involvement in her daughter's disappearance, but has not agreed to take a polygraph test.
"They have to have evidence," said Hunter's criminal defense attorney, Scott Maasen, shortly after his client's release from jail. "If they had evidence she has anything to do with a murder, she would be arrested and in jail right now, today."
Coombs said in a news release Tuesday that the Glendale Police Department "has determined a landfill search operation is viable and will be initiated within the next few weeks."
A team to handle the landfill search is being put together. According to Coombs, such search operations are extensive in scope and can run for several weeks. Because landfill searches are extremely difficult, the department took its time making the decision launch an operation at Butterfield.
While Jhessye was reported missing on Oct. 11, detectives now believe she was killed before that.
Investigators have not released any information about what led them to that conclusion, nor have have they said when they believe Jhessye died. If they are correct in their time line, however, Jhessye's body might have been at the landfill for more than three months.