JOLIET TOWNSHIP, Ill. (WLS) -- A missing 1-year-old girl was found dead inside her home late Wednesday night in southwest suburban Joliet Township after a massive search.
The body of 16-month-old Semaj Crosby was discovered in an 864 square-foot home in the 300-block of Louis Road. She was pronounced dead just before 1:30 a.m., the Will County coroner said.
Semaj lived in the home with her mother and two brothers and possibly some relatives, Will County Deputy Chief Rick Ackerson said at a press conference Thursday. He also said there could be as many as five to 15 people living in the small house, which Semaj's mother rents, at any given time. He said Semaj's mother's attorney described some of those people as "squatters."
Will County deputies said they gained consent to enter, with the FBI, from the attorney around 11 p.m. Wednesday. Ackerson said they found the residents were living in "very deplorable conditions." Thursday night, Will County Land Use officials examined the home, deemed it uninhabitable and red-tagged it.
Semaj was found around midnight. They did not say whether her body was concealed. Since the investigation of Semaj's "suspicious death" is still active, Ackerson said he could not disclose the exact place where her body was discovered. Sources close to the investigation said it's possible the child was found in a living room, possibly near a sofa or couch that was taken from the home Thursday morning.
The Will County coroner completed his autopsy just before 3 p.m. and said the cause of death was pending further study. Toxicology tests are being performed. There have been no arrests in this case and the police investigation is ongoing.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has investigated Semaj's mother in the past for an allegation of neglect. DCFS was at the home earlier Tuesday, the day the little girl vanished, to speak to her mother. They noted all of the children were present at that time, and left the home around 4 p.m.
A memorial of stuffed animals and balloons sits outside the home in tribute to Semaj. Thursday night, a crowd filled a nearby community park pavilion to pray for her. Neighbors who spent hours searching Semaj now circle her home to pray, reduced to tears and anger.
"Somebody need to go to jail, somebody need to go to jail," insisted Ebony July, who knows the family.
"She didn't wander off. It was sick from the beginning," said Zachary Stocking, neighbor.
Ackerson teared up at the end of Thursday's press conference, when asked how he himself reacted to the events of the last two days.
"Having kids of my own... It's tough," Ackerson said.
The intense search for Semaj started Tuesday afternoon, when her mother told deputies the baby had wandered away from the front yard.
"We actually had witnesses that described Semaj walking down the street and actually described the clothing she was in. At that point, we thought she had wandered off and really didn't know what we had at that point. The deputies did a cursory search of the residence, seeing if they could find her in obvious places. But due to the fact that it was getting late and we were losing daylight, we wanted to get outside and start the search," Ackerson said.
David Stocking, a neighbor, said he saw the little girl out in her front yard about two hours before she was reported missing, around 6 p.m. Tuesday.
"They ran up to the car. They just plain little kids, just out in the front. Everybody was outside," Stocking said. "It's just sad because I feel like I was one of the last persons to see her alive. It just hurts me because this shouldn't have happened."
Neighbors said the little girl could barely walk. That made it hard for them to understand the family's explanation about the child wandering off.
"I don't know what happened, I don't know if they had any foul play. I don't know if it was an accident. I don't know nothing, but this is not right," said Brittany Stocking, a neighbor.
More than 100 volunteers joined about 100 police personnel from several jurisdictions, combing ponds and woods nearby.
"We looking all around here, come to find out she was in that house the whole time? Be real," said Zachary Stocking.
Will County deputies maintained during the initial search that they did not believe any foul play was involved.
Ackerson said after having no success Tuesday night, investigators decided to start from scratch Wednesday morning and work from the inside out. But they were denied a search warrant by Will County State's Attorney's Office because they did not have enough evidence for probable cause.
Ackerson said Semaj's brothers are still in their mother's care, but are staying off-site, since investigators were still at the home late Thursday morning.
He also said the family had been cooperative with the search, but became somewhat reluctant after obtaining the attorney. Investigators plan to re-interview everyone involved.