The mother of a missing toddler from Joliet Township is currently under investigation for an allegation of neglect, the Department of Child and Family Services confirmed.
Crews continued to scour Joliet Township Wednesday morning as the frantic search continued for a 16-month-old girl who went missing the day before.
Police say Semaj Crosby wandered away from her parents at their home in the Preston Heights neighborhood just after 4 p.m. Tuesday and has not been seen since. Family members say she was last seen playing with her cousins in the yard of the home near Luana Road and Richards Street before disappearing.
"We have had prior contact with this family including four unfounded investigations for neglect and two prior pending investigation[s] for neglect opened in March 2017," said Veronica Resa, deputy director of communications for DCFS.
Resa said DCFS had been at the family's home April 25 about 3:20 p.m. and all three of the mother's children were there--including Semaj.
"There were no obvious hazards or safety concerns at that time. DCFS has been working with the family, offering services since September 2016," Resa said.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, authorities said more than 100 volunteers assisted in the search for Semaj but she had not been located.
“We are going to continue looking for Semaj late into the night—until we find her,” Deputy Chief Richard Ackerson, of the Will County Sheriff's Office, said. “We want to bring Semaj home tonight.”
He said the family had been interviewed multiple times and was was cooperating with authorities.
Asked how far a 1-year-old could have walked, Ackerson said the search area is large and dotted with “open fields, ponds, trees, bushes, you name it.”
Ackerson also said a caravan of deputies seen earlier in the day collecting trash cans was just a precaution and that they were leaving “no stone unturned.”
While authorities are thankful for the help, people should stop coming out to assist in the search, he said.
“We do have enough people out there, please do not come out,” he said.
He added that if someone finds something, leave it alone and contact the Will County Sheriff’s Office or FBI.
The FBI has activated a tipline for the search for Semaj which can be reached at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
Semaj has braids in her hair with white beads, her family said. She was wearing a long sleeve gray T-shirt with a cat on it, blue jeans and was barefoot when she went missing.
"I just want her home, I just want her home with me so she can be safe," Semaj's mother Sheri Gordon said.
After realizing Semaj had wandered away from the home, family members looked for the girl in the area until 6:30 p.m., when they called authorities, police said. Since then, deputies have been going door-to-door asking if anyone has seen a trace of the toddler.
Bloodhounds, detectives, patrolmen, volunteers and over 80 emergency personnel from the Will County Sheriff's Office and Will County Emergency Management searched Preston Heights through the night without success. A Cook County helicopter service provided an air search using infrared and heat capabilities, according to the sheriff’s office, but the young girl was nowhere to be found.
Family members told NBC 5 the girl had just learned to walk a few weeks ago and was still very wobbly on her feet.
“She just learned to walk, so she can’t get that far,” said Semaj’s aunt Lakershia Crosby. “Every five steps she takes she’s tripping over her feet.”
Authorities said they had no reason to believe there was foul play involved in her disappearance, hoping that the girl had simply laid down and fell asleep somewhere until the sun came up.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday, a second team of bloodhounds was called to the scene from Cook County, authorities said.
Police said East Joliet Fire Department was coordinating with outside agencies for the water resource searches and using drones to assist with grid searches. A pond in the Sugar Creek subdivision was also being searched, police said.
Abandoned homes, garages were also being searched, officials said.
A reverse 911 call was sent to all residents within a five mile radius late Tuesday, police said, asking for the public to search in their own yards in the surrounding area.
One neighbor, Reginald Alexander, was among many who walked and searched through what he said was seemingly every inch of the surrounding blocks and spaces, including abandoned homes and garages.
"I don't think she's around here because we looked everywhere," Alexander said. "Everyone in neighborhood tried to find that baby and the baby still [hasn't] came up."
Residents were being asked that unless they live in the area to avoid the away while emergency responders continue their search.
The Will County Sheriff's Office said it considers disappearance to be a missing child case.
Anyone with information is asked to call 911 immediately.