Family told Tionda isn't 'mystery girl'

May 5, 2008 5:03:44 AM PDT
Shelia Bradley-Smith gently broke the bad news to her family Saturday amid the cake and balloons. At first, there was silence. Then, heartache crashed down, snuffing out the newfound hope that had graced Diamond and Tionda Bradley's family a few days earlier.

"There were mixed emotions. It's a big disappointment," Bradley-Smith said Sunday of the family's reaction to a California man's assertion that it was his daughter not Tionda in the picture that surfaced on Tagged.com, a social networking Web site geared toward high school students.

The missing South Side girls' family was celebrating a relative's birthday when Bradley-Smith called them with the sobering revelation. For the most part, the clan believes Jeff Smith, father of the so-called mystery girl, is earnest. But they are still "in consensus" the girl could be Tionda and want proof that says otherwise.

"He [Jeff Smith] does sound sincere about her being his daughter. We are hoping and praying this will dispel all our beliefs and ease our hearts and minds through DNA tests," said Bradley-Smith, the girls' great-aunt.

James Miller, a private detective working on the case, said California FBI agents will be meeting with Jeff Smith's family to verify his claims.

The picture in question, which the Chicago Police has been aware of since 2007 and has investigated, was first discovered by a family friend who noticed a striking resemblance between the girl in the photo and Tionda, who was 10 when she disappeared with Diamond, then 3, nearly seven years ago.

A Houston Police Department forensic artist told the Sun-Times last week she was convinced that the girl in the photo was Tionda, but on Sunday she acknowledged that her analysis might be incorrect. Still, she wants law enforcement to further investigate before dismissing her work.

"This is the first time I've done a photo identification that hasn't worked," -- this is the first time," said Lois Gibson, who has worked on other high-profile cases and teaches at Northwestern.

Meanwhile, Bradley-Smith says the family is bracing for the worst.

"I just don't want to be stuck in limbo again," Bradley-Smith said. "If it's not Tionda, to us, it will be like losing her twice. But we'll accept it."


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