Jhessye Shockley's mom makes first appearance since jail release

Posted: Updated:
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Friends and family gathered on a Glendale street corner Tuesday to hold a special holiday vigil for 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley, who disappeared 10 weeks ago without a trace.

Among those gathered was Jerice Hunter, the girl's mother, who has not been seen in public since being arrested on child abuse charges last month.

Glendale police said one of Hunter's other children told them Hunter beat Jhessye and kept her in a closet.

Despite those allegations, child abuse charges were not pursued and Hunter was released from jail in late November.

Hunter refused to talk to reporters at the vigil on Tuesday, but hugged friends and family and recited prayers for Jhessye.

Hunter's mother, Shirley Johnson, would not address allegations against her daughter and said reports that Hunter has been in hiding since her release are false.

"She's not hiding, she's here," Johnson said. "She comes out when she needs to come out."

Jhessye was reported missing from her Glendale apartment on Oct. 11. Police have said they do not expect to find her alive.

Johnson said she organized the vigil to let the public know the family has not given up on finding Jhessye alive.

"We can't let this baby's name go cold, she deserves to be found," Johnson said. "I want everybody to keep looking out for Jhessye. I want everybody to know that we haven't stopped wanting her back."

Last week Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery urged patience from the public and vowed investigators have not forgotten about Jhessye.

Earlier this month Glendale police called off a planned search of an area landfill but have released no information since then.