Focus turns to mom after kids found in freezer

By Holly Fournier, George Hunter, Robert Snell and Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Detroit — The bodies of two dead children lay inside a freezer for months in a low-income townhouse on Detroit's near east side, while two siblings lived there with their mother, who was handcuffed, taken into custody and questioned by police.

The woman, identified as 35-year-old Mitchelle Blair, had not been charged by prosecutors as of Tuesday evening in connection with the deaths of her children, a boy about 11 years old and a girl about 14.

Blair's Facebook profile declared: "Loyal to my babies." One recent post was of the words: "There is no greater blessing than being called Mom."

"This is so tragic," said neighbor Tori Childs. "They were the nicest kids, so respectable."

It was not immediately known if the two surviving children, ages 11 and 17, were aware the bodies of their sister and brother were in the home. They were being questioned by police and social workers Tuesday, police said, and are in protective custody.

The children's frozen bodies were found around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday inside a townhouse at the Martin Luther King homes on the 800 block of St. Aubin by a crew from 36th District Court charged with evicting Blair for non-payment of rent. The bailiffs, whose job is to clear furniture out of the townhouse, first discovered the female child and dialed 911, police said. The boy's body was found later in the freezer, according to police.

Terrance West, a member of the eviction crew, said the freezer was next to the front door.

"Unfortunately, we see a lot of bad things on this job," he said.

Neighbor Shanetria Lanier, 21, said people in the apartment complex wondered what happened to the two children, who suddenly dropped out of sight about a year ago.

"When people asked her where her other two kids are, she said they were at their aunt's house," Lanier said. "Or sometimes she'd tell people they stayed inside because they didn't like to be around people."

Lanier added that Blair home-schooled her kids. "That's why no schools were wondering where they were," she said. An official with Detroit Public Schools said there was no record of the children attending classes in the district.

Childs said she saw the children's bodies inside the home Tuesday shortly after police arrived.

"When we walked past, we saw two bodies on the floor," said Childs, 33. "It was a little girl and a little boy. The little girl had on a pink jacket."

Childs said Blair told her, "I'm sorry" before police took her away in handcuffs.

Marlon Blair, Mitchelle's brother, said he was still processing the news.

"It's too early to even say what this could be, or to make any judgments," said Marlon Blair, who lives in California. "She didn't have any emotional problems from what I'm aware of. I don't know what to say about this."

After finding the bodies, officers quickly took the mother into custody as a person of interest, after another resident of the complex told police she was with a relative also living there, Police Chief James Caig said.

Craig confirmed Blair had two other children who lived in the home.

It is unclear where the surviving children were at the time of the eviction, he said.

Lanier said her sister received a call around 6 a.m. Tuesday from Blair.

"She said she was getting evicted and the Dumpsters were out front," Lanier said.

Lanier said the woman asked to stay at Lanier's sister's home with two of her children Tuesday, and was there when her children's bodies were found.

Craig said no weapons were found in the home.

Autopsies to establish how the two children died had not been performed yet Tuesday.

"It's unknown at this point what factors were involved in this," Craig said.

Blair has lived in the complex at least 10 years. She was unemployed, was having money troubles and had gotten behind on her rent, said friend and neighbor Shay Wilson, 37.

Childs' mother, Carrie McDonald, also lives in the complex and said she spoke by phone Tuesday morning with Blair.

"She told me this morning, 'Ms. Carrie, if you don't never see me again just know that I love you,' " McDonald said. "I love her. The mother is a beautiful person. She was just going through some things."

A police source familiar with the investigation said Blair was cooperating with detectives.

Blair was sued by Martin Luther King Apartments for non-payment of rent six times going back to 2004. An eviction order was filed Feb. 11, and signed by District Judge Beatrice Pennie. On March 9, a judgment by consent was entered for the $2,354.50 she owed the complex.

In 1999, Blair filed a paternity suit in Wayne Circuit Court. The father was ordered to pay child support. She filed a second paternity suit against a different man in 2007, which also resulted in an order to pay child support

She had an outstanding arrest warrant from a December 2006 case in which she was driving an unregistered vehicle without insurance, court records show. After failing to pay the ticket, a warrant was issued in January 2007. The warrant was rescinded Tuesday.

Police initially reported Tuesday that a single body, that of a 45- to 50-year-old female showing signs of trauma, had been found in the freezer. Craig confirmed around 1:30 p.m. the bodies of two children had been found.

This is the second high-profile slaying of a child in recent years at the Martin Luther King Apartments. In December 2012, Semeria Greene fatally stabbed her 8-year-old daughter, Tameria. She was convicted of second-degree murder last year, and sentenced to 23-50 years in prison.

News of the latest child death dismayed city leaders.

"As details continue to emerge, one thing is abundantly clear: our system of protecting children and identifying and helping those in need whether it's emotionally, mentally, financially or socially must be called into question," said City Councilmember Mary Sheffield, whose 5th District includes Detroit's lower eastside, downtown, riverfront and central portions. "Whether this is a case of neglect, homicide or a result of mental illness society must be in position to recognize a child is in danger and swift decisive action must be taken."

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