Teams in Shockley landfill search pick up the pace

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by Catherine Holland

azfamily.com

Posted on February 18, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Updated Saturday, Feb 18 at 3:41 PM

Map: Butterfield Landfill, Mobile

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MOBILE, Ariz. -- After two weeks of sifting through tons of garbage at the Butterfield Station Landfill, Glendale police say the search teams are getting more efficient.

The landfill search for the body of Jhessye Shockley, the 5-year-old girl who was reported missing by her mother on Oct. 11, began on Feb. 6 after weeks of planning.

While they have not turned up any significant evidence, police are confident that Jhessye's body is in the landfill. When they first started, the search teams were getting through 50 tons of trash each day. Now that they've settled into the search, they're up to 100 tons per day.

Searchers have managed to keep up that pace despite recent winds in the area.

"It makes things a little more difficult because debris begins to pick and move," Glendale Police Sgt. Brent Coombs explained. "We don't want to lose any of that so we have to slow operations down a little to maintain what he have, make sure that we go through everything and nothing is missed."

Coombs said police are certain that they are looking in the right area at the landfill, but that section is about 20 feet deep and contained about 6,000 tons of trash. The search is expected to go on for several more weeks.

"As long as it takes for us to get through every last bit of that trash in that area is as long as we will be out there,” Coombs said on the first day of the search. "It's extremely important to investigators to find those remains because no 5-year old-should be left in a landfill."

Although Jhessye's mother, Jerice Hunter, reported the little girl on missing on Oct. 11, investigators believe the child had been killed and her body placed in a Tempe trash bin before then. Trash from that Tempe location is taken to the WMI Butterfield Station Landfill in Mobile, which is about an hour southwest of Phoenix.

Officers arrested 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. She has not been charged in connection with the case, but Glendale detectives say she is the focus of their investigation.

Hunter, who served time for child abuse in California, has maintained her innocence and her lawyer has said repeatedly that police have no evidence against his client.

The Glendale Police Department said it will be adding more search crews when the operation picks up on Tuesday.

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