After Washington police searching for a missing 6-year-old made the grisly find that residents feared, neighbors of the Steele Creek Mobile Park are worried that whoever may have killed Jenise Wright is still out there.
“There’s definitely fear, especially not knowing what happened. She was an innocent child,” said Christina Baqui, a mother of a 1-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, who lives next to the mobile home park. “You don’t want to think anyone is harmful to a kid.”
Law enforcement officials say they are “confident” that a child’s body found at around 11:30 a.m. is Jenise’s, and that she was the victim of a crime, although the county coroner has not formally identified the body or determined a cause of death. Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff Scott Wilson said investigators are trying to narrow in on a suspect, but did not name a person of interest in the case Thursday.
“This is going to be a criminal investigation, there’s no doubt about that,” Wilson told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Jenise was last seen by her parents as she went to bed Saturday night in Bremerton, in northern Washington, and was seen wandering in the neighborhood the following morning, authorities said. More than 375 law enforcement officers, including specialized units from the FBI, searched for days until the discovery by a search team with a police dog Thursday morning.
Diane Duthweiler / NBC News
A memorial for Jenise Wright at the entrance to the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park in Bremerton, Wash., where she lived.
Jenise’s parents waited 24 hours to call police for help, because they said the child frequently wandered off on her own. They were given lie-detector tests as part of the investigation. Authorities have not released the results of those tests, but have said the girl’s parents have been cooperative with the investigators.
Sympathetic neighbors placed flowers and cards at the entrance of the mobile home park Thursday night, adding to signs that read “Bring Jenise Home!”
“It’s tragic circumstances that bring us here,” said FBI Special Agent Frank Montoya, Jr. “But at the same time there is much work to do and we pledge to be here.”
Investigators went door to door in the mobile home park, searching all 103 buildings and interviewing registered sex offenders in the area.
After the search began for Jenise, state child welfare workers removed two other children, an 8-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, from the home, but authorities did not say why.
James Wright, Jenise’s father, was accused of molesting an 8-year-old relative and assaulting a 15-year-old babysitter in 2000, NBC affiliate KING 5 reported, but the molestation charge was later dropped.
Baqui, the neighbor, said she used to briefly let her 4-year-old outside alone to access a set of stairs to visit the child’s grandfather who lives on the second story, in part because the family home is in a secluded area. But residents no longer feel safe.
“Since she went missing, we go walk him up and whenever he wants to come down we have him call us and we get him, only because we’re scared,” Baqui said. “You never know what can happen.”
First published August 7 2014, 7:54 PM