Search for missing Oklahoma girl becomes recovery operation, days after murder suspect arrested in Phoenix

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) confirmed the search for 4-year-old Athena Brownfield is now a recovery operation.
Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 1:28 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 16, 2023 at 8:51 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/KSWO) The search for missing 4-year-old Athena Brownfield has officially been changed to a recovery operation, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) confirmed Monday to our sister station KSWO. The news comes three days after one of her caregivers was arrested in Phoenix on a felony murder warrant.

Monday’s press release confirmed that Athena and her 5-year-old sister had been under the care of relative Alysia Adams and her husband Ivon for at least a year. Ivon Adams, 36, was arrested by Phoenix police Thursday afternoon near 67th Avenue and Camelback Road. He’s expected to be extradited to Oklahoma sometime within the next week.

The OSBI and Oklahoma Highway Patrol agents searched the home and areas of Caddo County for the toddler’s remains over the weekend, and the investigation is ongoing. People in southwest Oklahoma have been scrutinizing the search, which began when Athena’s 5-year-old sister was discovered alone outside their home by a postal carrier on Jan. 10 outside the Adams’ home. Both caretakers were arrested two days later. Alysia Adams faces two counts of child neglect.

The OSBI says the girls’ biological parents had been interviewed and were cooperating with the investigation. The press release stressed that neither Alysia or Ivon Adams have been convicted of a crime, saying they were innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. “Rumors on social media will not help the investigation and may instead hinder progress,” said agents in a press release.

“You could have things such as video evidence,” said retired FBI supervisory special agent Lance Leising. “You might also have evidence of a lot of blood at the crime scene. Maybe so much blood that there’s no way somebody could have survived with that.” Leising headed up some of the most high-profile homicide cases in Arizona during his time with the FBI.

He said while the Oklahoma authorities may not be revealing details, it’s clear they have information that shows premeditation for Adams to murder little Athena, who authorities say had been in his and his wife Alysia’s care for one year.

Alysia is not facing murder charges but is facing child neglect charges. “They have evidence, pretty clear and convincing evidence, that they’re confident the victim died at the hands of this defendant. And they likely know how that took place as well. What they just don’t have is the location of the body. More often than not that means the body was moved after the homicide, taken to a place to conceal it and hide it, and likely they don’t have cooperation from the defendant,” said Leising.

As part of the investigation, Oklahoma detectives spent the weekend serving a search warrant on the Adams home and searching a creek reservoir for the little girl. They’ve asked the public not to help with searches, so potential evidence doesn’t get contaminated.

Former FBI special agent John Iannarelli said no resources are spared in missing child cases. “A missing child goes to the top of the list. You have a young person who probably cannot care for themselves,” Iannarelli said.

It parallels another high-profile child homicide case in Arizona – 10-year-old Jesse Wilson in Buckeye. Though investigators zeroed in on Jesse’s adoptive mom as a suspect early on, she was not arrested in connection to the boy’s death until just a month ago, years after his remains were found. Even still, she hasn’t been charged with murder.

Leising said there is likely one big difference between Athena Brownfield’s case and Jesse Wilson’s. “The evidence you’re missing is that the defendant committed that crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a difficult burden to prove,” said Leising.