CHICAGO — The decapitated head of a toddler found in a lagoon last week could belong to as many as nine missing children from across the country, and police now are seeking justice for the child in death that eluded it in life.
Divers found the child’s head—identified as an African-American toddler, likely 2-3 years old—after a jogger noticed a foot floating in the waters of a Garfield Park lagoon on Chicago’s violent West Side. The foot belonged to the child, authorities said, and the second foot along with both the child’s hands were eventually found. But after draining the lagoon in a failed attempt to find the torso, police called off their search Sunday.
At least two missing children from the metropolitan Chicago area fit the description, and at least seven more do from other states, according to media reports and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“The longer they’re gone, the higher the risk,” said Bob Lowery, vice president of the missing persons division of the national advocacy agency.
Abduction, physical and sexual abuse, abandonment and death tend to await children who aren’t found shortly after they are reported missing, Lowery said.
In Chicago, the discovery of the toddler’s remains has grabbed headlines—and Lowery said the gruesome finding has sparked a typical response at the center and among law enforcement agencies—but the case doesn’t appear to have reached much national attention.
“The age of the child will usually capture the public’s attention because it pulls at our heartstrings, because it’s hard to make sense of someone doing that to someone so young,” Lowery said.
Lowery’s organization is working with law enforcement in an attempt to solve the crime in Chicago, as well as that of a Jane Doe found over the summer in Boston, wrapped in a trash bag that was discovered by a woman walking her dog on the beach. Forensic testing determined the child had spent some of the summer months in “any one of the New England states” before her death, a maddeningly obscure fact for police and concerned citizens to consider in their efforts to identify the girl.
“They are rare, fortunately,” Lowery said of cases like those in Boston and Chicago.
Perhaps the rarity of the cases makes them stand out, although it would be difficult to conceive of a person who wouldn’t be shocked at a child discarded, and there have been many over the years.
One of the more disturbing cases comes from Lowery’s native St. Louis, where 32 years ago the decapitated body of a little girl who had been raped was found by looters in an abandoned house. Her head, her killer, and her life’s story remain missing and unknown to this day.
Among those in the Chicago area who fit the official police description of the toddler who was recently found—a black child between 8 months and 4 years of age—are Beyoun Collins, King Walker and Tra’Mya Pollard.
Expanded to all 50 states for black children in that age range, the list grows: J’Vontae Harden in Florida; Abigail Smith in California; Elaijah Karriem in Virginia; A’Million Shelton in Texas; Malik Drummond in Arkansas.
Drummond has been named along with 2-year-old King Walker as cases that police are looking into, although Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy downplayed the prospect that the remains found were that of Walker, missing along with his developmentally disabled aunt from nearby Gary, Indiana, since late July.
Walker’s disappearance raised questions among local media about the police’s failure to issue an Amber Alert for the child and his aunt, Diamond Bynum, a 21-year-old with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. While Lowery wouldn’t discuss the particulars of the case, he did say that Bynum and Walker didn’t immediately fit the requirements for issuing the alert, which are put in place to avoid inundating the public with unnecessary notifications on their phones and TVs.
“We call it the car alarm effect,” he said. “The more you hear one, the less likely you’re going to do anything about it.”
Walker’s mother, Ariana, has posted on her own Facebook page, dismissing those who believe her son’s remains were the ones recently found in neighboring Chicago—a 50-minute drive away.
“My son is alive and he is coming home. I love you King and mommy is going to find you and bring you home. My heart goes out to that baby tho because no baby deserves anything like that,” she wrote of the child found in Chicago. “God please protect these babies from evil doers.”
Over the weekend, Walker wrote that she has received threats from those who believe it was her son King’s remains found by Chicago police in Garfield Park. She remains steadfast in her belief that her son is alive. And even if he and his aunt aren’t, they have other-wordly protection.
“I may not be able to see my son and sister right now but God is watching over them as we speak.”