The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

On October 11, 2011 five-year-old Jahessye (Jessie) Shockley seemingly fell of the face of the earth. One month later her mother Jerice Hunter stared into the lens of a television camera and declared, “Jahessye, mama coming to get you. Mama coming!”

America is in denial that evil exists in the hand that rocks the cradle. We prefer to think of our monsters as shrouded, faceless men lurking in the dark. However, a current case illustrate that as convenient as this perception may be, moms and dads can also be infected with anti-social impulses, destructive compulsions, and violent tendencies.

It was reported that Jahessye disappeared from the family home under the care of three siblings while her mother ran errands. There were no signs of forced entry so police initially believed that Jahessye had walked out through the front door and wandered away when no one was paying attention. A hastily issued Amber Alert and thorough search of her Glendale, Arizona neighborhood provided no leads to her whereabouts.

No suspect or person of interest was named, yet within days Jerice Hunter accused the authorities of unfairly focusing their investigation on her, because of her criminal past. Jerice’ mother Shirley Johnson further charged the police and media with racism, claiming that the case was not receiving much deserved attention because the little girl was black. On November 21, 2011 Jerice Hunter was arrested on child abuse charges directly related to Jahessye’s disappearance. The authorities announced that they do not expect to recover Jahessye alive.

In 2005 Jerice Hunter was charged with torturing another 7-year old daughter and causing corporal injury her other three children. Her mother Shirley Johnson told the police that Jerice whipped the child with an extension cord while the child was being held down by her husband, registered sex offender George Shockley. In 2006 torture charges were dropped in exchange for a “no contest” plea. Hunter was subsequently sentenced to 8-years in prison and denied her parental rights because she was considered a threat to the well being of her children. Jerice justified her criminal behavior by claiming that she had been abused as a child.

Jerice Hunter’s mother Shirley Johnson, the woman who taught Jerice how to discipline and abuse kids, received custody of the four children named in the criminal complaint. Little Jahessye, born shortly before her mother went to prison, was turned over to other relatives. Upon her release from custody four years later Jerice moved to Arizona where grandma Shirley decided to ‘reunite the family’ without going through legal proceedings. Upon an order from Phoenix Police little Jahessye was turned over to her mother in August, 2010. Jerice now had total control over the children she had gone to prison for abusing and the daughter who would disappear within the next ten months.

Jerice was eight months pregnant when Jahessye disappeared, so she was not allowed to take the polygraph she said would prove her innocence. By the time Jerice gave birth at the end of October, Arizona Child Protective Services (CPS) had removed the other three children from her custody and placed them in foster homes. They quickly did the same with her infant. Jerice now refuses to take a polygraph exam.

Once free of her mother’s control Jahessye’s thirteen-year-old sister told her foster mother that Jahessye was kept in a bedroom closet and deprived of food and water and that she had seen her with black eyes and bruises and cuts to her face and body. She also reported that clumps of Jahessye’s hair had been pulled out. She went on to say that Jahessye did not look alive, that she looked like a zombie and that the closet where Jahessye was kept looked like a grave and smelled like dead people.

The sister said that a few days before Jahessye was reported missing Jerice spent the entire day cleaning the apartment and cleaning her shoes from the closet with soap and bleach. The police found a receipt that showed Jerice bought a bottle of bleach two days before she reported Jahessye missing. Jerice was arrested for child abuse on November 21. She has since been released and has not been charged with Jahessye’s disappearance.

This case oozes deferred responsibility. It wasn’t Jerice Hunter’s fault that she tortured and abused her kids: after all, that’s how she was treated when she was a child. It’s not Phoenix PD’s fault that Jahessye was returned to her mother because children belong with their parents. California CPS wasn’t responsible for actions that took place in Arizona, and Arizona CPS couldn’t prove abuse despite numerous complaints and repeated reports documenting Jerice’s sad and sordid history with children.

The disappearance of Jahessye Shockley is a familial and institutional failure. Her mother has proven unfit time and time again. The court knew it, but failed to take appropriate action. Jerice Hunter had been reported to CPS more than once, yet they failed to take appropriate action. The police who ordered Jahessye return to her abusive mother now scramble to locate the little girl whose disappearance has rocked a community.

We only know two things for certain. Jahessye Shockley did not fall of the face of the earth, and her mother should never have been allowed to regain custody of her children.

One November 9, 2011Jerice Hunter stared into the lens of a television camera and declared, “Jahessye, mama coming to get you. Mama coming!”