Cops: Woman says boy, girl killed to stop abuse
Detroit — For more than a year, the two children in apartment No. 804 of the Martin Luther King Apartments lived with a terrible family secret: The bodies of their brother and sister were hidden inside a large freezer in the living room, police and family say.
The 8-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl are trying to make sense of it, said their great-aunt, Angela Gordon, who is caring for them. Police say their mother, Mitchelle Blair, admitted she killed 9-year-old Stephen Berry and 13-year-old Stoni Blair after she discovered they had been molesting a young relative, two police sources familiar with the case said Wednesday.
"Pray for those children," Gordon, a retired Detroit police child abuse investigator, said of the surviving siblings. "They saw things nobody should ever have to see. I have no idea what it was like for them to live with those bodies all that time. I can't even imagine."
Wayne County prosecutors charged Blair on Wednesday with four counts of first-degree child abuse, a 15-year felony; and one count of committing child abuse first-degree in the presence of another child, a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
Blair is to be arraigned at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in 36th District Court.
"The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office is continuing the investigation regarding the deaths of Stoni Blair and (Stephen) Berry while waiting for the autopsy report from the Wayne County Medical Examiner," Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller said in a statement issued to reporters.
Blair told detectives she killed her son two years ago, and her daughter in 2014, after she said she learned of the sexual abuse, two sources said. Prosecutors said Stoni would be 15 now and Stephen would be 11.
Ryan Bridges, a spokesman for the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office, said in an email that autopsies were tentatively scheduled for Thursday, "as the bodies are still frozen."
Police are awaiting autopsy results to determine the cause of death. Sources said it appears the boy died of strangulation and the girl from blunt-force trauma.
The Detroit News is not disclosing the identity of the relative who was allegedly molested, nor naming Blair's surviving kids.
"Whether I end up with them or someone else does, they're going to need a lot of counseling," said Gordon, 58, Blair's aunt.
Family members have set up a gofundme.com account at www.gofundme.com/pxeflk to raise money for funeral expenses.
Gordon said Blair had cut off contact with the rest of the family, which is why nobody noticed Stephen and Stoni were missing.
"We had such a tumultuous relationship," Gordon said of her niece. "She was always calling for help; she needed food, money. I told her she had to get a job and take care of her family. That was the time when she cut everyone off and we didn't hear from her."
Gordon said Blair had sporadic jobs, but they never lasted long. "I think she worked in a bar for a while," she said. "She dropped out of school in the 10th grade; what was out there for her? I begged her to go back to school, but she wouldn't. I took care of those kids, basically. She'd run out of food stamps, and she'd call me."
When asked whether Blair was homeschooling her children, as neighbors said she claimed, Gordon scoffed. "Yeah, right. With a 10th-grade education?"
Gordon added the children were enrolled in the Ralph Bunche Preparatory Academy, formerly Duffield Elementary School, until Blair pulled them out of school two years ago.
"I worked on a lot of bad cases," said Gordon, a 26-year police veteran. "But even if this wasn't family, this is as bad as anything I ever worked on."
Blair left high school while pregnant with her oldest child, Stoni's sister, said Tracey Dorsey of Detroit, the aunt of the girls. Her brother is their father and was a classmate, she said.
He strived to stay in his kids' lives and supported them after his relationship with Blair ended, but "she got in the way," Tracey Dorsey said. "Every time she talked to him it was about money. … It was always an argument."
Their father said he hadn't seen or spoken with Stoni in more than a year, his sister said. "The only way we could talk to them was through the phone, and that was only sometimes."
When he tried to speak with the teen, either her older sister or mother "would tell him Stoni was not there or she was always gone somewhere," Tracey Dorsey said, adding the girls had also stopped attending family reunions.
Now, with news of the slaying, "we're taking it hard," she said. "It's crazy. We didn't think she killed her… We didn't think she'd do this."
Dorsey said her family doesn't buy what Blair alleges about molestation and hopes she remains imprisoned "for life… She doesn't need to come out at all."
Detroit Police Chief James Craig briefly discussed the case at a press conference Wednesday morning at police headquarters.
"While the desire to know what happened in that home is strong, I will ask you to be mindful of the two children who were in that home and are still alive," Craig told reporters.
Blair was arrested Tuesday in the Martin Luther King Apartments on the city's near east side, where court bailiffs discovered the bodies while removing the freezer from the woman's townhouse. She had been ordered evicted for nonpayment of rent.
"The alleged facts in this case present examples of why we must all be diligent and involved citizens," Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. "A good way to protect society's children is to be alert and look out for your neighborhood youth, refuse to look the other way, and report what you know when necessary. Even though we are issuing these charges today, this tragic case remains under investigation."
Staff Writers Holly Fournier and Mark Hicks contributed.