Map: Butterfield Landfill
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After more than four months of searching for the body of Jhessye Shockley in the Butterfield Landfill, investigators say they've exhausted their efforts.
Disappointing, because officials believe the 5-year-old, who was reported missing last October, is still there.
"We know how Jhessye got to the landfill, we knew the path that she took and we know how she was deposited," said Assistant Police Chief Rick St. John.
Investigators said their months-long search was virtually error proof - using technology, and careful planning, they methodically combed through the area where her remains would likely have been deposited.
But 96 days of searching the 9,500 tons of compressed trash by 280 volunteers from 12 agencies wasn't enough.
"I can tell you, we didn't miss her, we believe that she's there but she wasn't where we looked," said St. John.
And that thought left some of the searchers in the room at Wednesday's press conference with tears in their eyes.
"We did everything humanly possible to try and find her. It is very difficult, they didn't want to leave," said Commander Dave Madeya, explaining the volunteer's disappointment.
At least one of Jhessye's family members wasn't surprised by the news.
"Jhessye is not in the landfill, Jhessye is alive and well and somebody has her," said the girl's grandfather, Jesse Johnson, over the phone.
Johnson maintains that the suspect is at large, and it's not Jhessye's mom Jerice Hunter, who is still the prime suspect in the case.
"They wasted so much time, the person could be way over in South America," said Johnson.
Both Johnson and police say Hunter still lives in the Valley. She could not be reached for comment.
Hunter was arrested in November on suspicion of child abuse, but was released without being charged.
As far as the next step in the investigation, Glendale police assure there are avenues left to pursue.
"There's other evidence that we've obtained and there's statements that have been made that lead us to believe there will eventually be successful prosecution," said St. John.
And that would be possible, even without a body according to the County Attorney.
"It certainly makes the situation more difficult and places a greater importance on other pieces of evidence and so it doesn't preclude a case but it complicates it.," said Bill Montgomery.