Family of missing Detroit kids keeps up hope
More than three years have passed, yet Travae Fox feels she still has not properly put to rest her daughter, who was shot to death by her estranged husband.
Not only is she still mourning the loss of Alicia Fox-Justice, the Detroit woman remains obsessed with finding her daughter’s two young children, who were last seen shortly before their mother’s body was found June 9, 2014, in an abandoned house on Penrod Street.
Fox says she can’t give her daughter a proper memorial without knowing the whereabouts of Kaylah Hunter, who was 6, and Kristian Justice, who was 8 months old when they disappeared in late May 2014.
“We had a private service among family, but we didn’t hold one that is official,” Fox said. “I wanted my grandchildren to be there.”
For Fox and other family members, closure is elusive.
“I take it one day at a time,” said Catherine Doughty, a cousin of Fox-Justice.
Doughty says she thinks the children are alive and living out of state with a family member or close friend of Erin Justice, who is serving 47-80 years in his wife’s death.
“I believe he feels he has this over us,” said Doughty, who keeps fliers of the children in her car to pass out at convenience stores and other public places.
Alicia Fox-Justice, 27, was shot multiple times, including twice in the head. Erin Justice pleaded guilty to her murder in September 2015 after he was brought back to Michigan from Georgia.
Justice remained mum about the children’s whereabouts during his sentencing the same month in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Fox says she hopes Erin Justice will tell authorities what happened to the children.
“I pray every night that whatever he’s holding in his head that he speaks. ... that he tells the truth,” she said. “That’s my prayer: that he opens his mouth and that he speaks (up).”
Fox says she leans on her faith to deal with the emotional agony of losing her daughter and not knowing her where her grandchildren are.
“I have my good days and I have my bad days,” she said. “It’s by the grace of God that I’m still standing. I have a purpose (and) I have two other children that I have to live for. I have to be there when my grandchildren come home. I can’t give up.”
Detroit Police say they are still investigating the children’s disappearance.
“We are still following up on every tip and lead that are coming in,” said Officer Jennifer Moreno, a department spokeswoman. “It’s still an open and active case.”
Moreno declined to discuss the number of tips or the nature of any information received by investigators.
Advocates for missing children say the chances of finding a child alive drop rapidly after the first few days, but it’s not unheard of for a missing youth to be found safe weeks, months or even years after disappearing.
Robert Lowery Jr., vice president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said missing children who have been rescued include Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, Shawn Hornbeck and Carlina White.
“Many thought the worst had happened but they were in fact found alive,” he said. “We urge the public not to just assume the worst has happened and not look for these children. Please pay attention to these children’s images and report anything you might know.”
Citing FBI figures, Lowery said there are 465,000 reported cases of missing children each year, and that 99 percent of those children are found. He said the large majority are runaways.
Lowery said cases where a parent is suspected in a child’s disappearance are more common than most people realize.
He cited the case of the three Skelton brothers, who were last seen in the back yard of their Morenci home the day after Thanksgiving in 2010. Police believe the boys’ father, John Skelton, killed Andrew, 9, Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5; he has given conflicting accounts of what happened to his sons.
“They are rather rare but they’re not unprecedented,” Lowery said. “The three boys from Morenci is a good example. We’ve had two children here in the Washington, D.C., area taken by their mother, who’s sitting in jail refusing to tell anyone what happened to the children. She’s since been charged with their murders.”
Lowery said the center pursued three leads it received shortly after the Fox-Justice children were reported missing and hasn’t lost hope of finding them.
“No child case is ever closed until the child is found,” he said.
The center shares images of missing children on buses and billboards.
“When it comes to missing children .... we’ve learned over the years not to give up on these kids,” Lowery said. “We really urge the public to view it the same way. Even though the circumstances are dire, we can’t give up hope on finding these kids.”