Investigators say the death of a 16-month-old girl reported missing earlier this week is being investigated as "suspicious.
An autopsy on the body of young Semaj Crosby was completed Thursday. The cause of death, however, was pending further studies.
"We will continue to try and find out why this ended in such a tragic way," Deputy Chief Rick Ackerson with the Will County Sheriff's Office said during a press conference Thursday.
Semaj was found dead around 12 a.m. Thursday inside a home in the 300 block of Louis Road in Joliet Township, less than two days after she went missing from her home in the southwest suburb of Chicago.
Police have not confirmed if the home Semaj was found in is the same home she lived in before going missing. Authorities did note that they had searched the residence at the start of their investigation Tuesday, but were looking for the child in "obvious places."
"Deputies did a periphery search of the residence to see if they could find her in obvious places, but due to the fact that it was getting late and we were losing daylight, we wanted to get outside and start the search," Ackerson said.
He said that early in the investigation, authorities noted the home Semaj lived in was in "very deplorable conditions."
Anywhere from five to 15 people typically lived in the home at a given time, officials said, adding that the attorney for the mother told them many of those residents were considered "squatters."
"They come and go as they please, they may be there for a week, they might be there for a night," Ackerson said.
The house is in the center of what had been a massive search area scoured by more than 100 officers, multiple teams of bloodhounds, divers and volunteers ever since the toddler was reported missing by her mother, Sheri Gordon, on Tuesday evening.
Gordon told authorities her daughter had been playing outside with other children before she wandered away. Semaj was last seen in the yard of the family’s Preston Heights neighborhood home with her cousins that afternoon, around 4 p.m., her mother said.
Just before Semaj went missing, investigators with the Department of Child and Family Services say they saw the little girl safe at the home. A spokesperson said the agency had visited the home that day and were investigating Gordon for an allegation of neglect.
DCFS investigators checked on the home at about 3:20 p.m., officials said, and all three of the Gordon’s children were there – including Semaj. About three hours later, at about 6:30 p.m., the family reported her missing.
Ackerson noted that while attempting to interview Gordon, another woman was trying to interrupt the conversation.
"She was pounding on the outside of the trailer trying to get [Gordon] to stop talking," he said.
NBC 5 learned Wednesday that Gordon had hired an attorney as authorities searched fields from helicopters in the air, divers submerged themselves into multiple nearby ponds, and dozens of local residents and volunteers held prayer circles in hopes of finding Semaj safe.
As the search efforts marched past the first full day and Semaj was still nowhere to be found, authorities took a new approach to the search, looking to "start from scratch."
The Will County Sheriff's Office said it was Gordon's attorney that helped authorities get consent to search the home at on Louis Road around 11 p.m. Wednesday, before investigators found the body of the girl an hour later.
"Having kids of my own, it's tough," a teary-eyed Ackerson said of the heartbreaking discovery.