Father of Semaj Crosby Speaks Out: ‘I Should Have Been There'

Semaj's death remained a mystery for months after she was found dead in April following an intense hours-long search by police and dozens of community members

In the weeks before his daughter's death, James Crosby would spend one of every seven days holding his daughter in his arms, despite being behind bars. 

"I'd get to hug her, kiss her. She'd fall asleep on me," Crosby said in an interview with radio station WJOL. "She knew exactly who I am."

But while he was incarcerated in the Will County Detention Center, his daughter died and her death has since been ruled a homicide. 

"I just want to know what happened to my daughter," Crosby said. 

Still, few answers have been given surrounding the toddler's mysterious and tragic death. 

The Will County Coroner's office said Semaj Crosby, whose body was found dead in her Joliet home, died of asphyxia. 

The coroner's office said its homicide ruling was "based on the unusual circumstances surrounding her disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her decomposing body under the couch in her own home, the multiple previous contacts by the Department of Children and Family Services, the suspicious fire at the residence and lack of cooperation from the witnesses."

The case remains under investigation by the Will County Sheriff's office.

Semaj's death has remained a mystery for months after she was found dead in April following an intense hours-long search by police and dozens of community members.

On April 27, her body was found under the couch in her family’s home – a home police have said was in “deplorable” conditions, a home she lived in alongside “squatters.”

In the months since the girl’s death, there have been no arrests.

Detectives said they don’t know when or how Semaj’s body got under the family’s couch. Law enforcement initially searched the house, but since the first reports indicated she had wandered off or was taken, police dedicated the search to surrounding areas. 

“It was only until we exhausted every resource we had – we had so many helicopters, hundreds of searchers looking for her – we said, ‘Time out, let’s start from square one,’” said Detective R.J. Austin.

At the time of her disappearance, the girl's mother told authorities her daughter had been playing outside with other children before she wandered away.

Less than three hours earlier, at about 3:20 p.m., investigators with the Department of Child and Family Services said they visited the home and saw the girl alive while investigating the mother for an allegation of neglect. At about 6:30 p.m., the family reported her missing.

Photos released by investigators following the girl's tragic death showed the home she lived in was in "very deplorable conditions." Anywhere from five to 15 people typically lived there at a given time, officials said, adding that the attorney for the girl’s mother told them many of those residents were considered "squatters."

"I didn’t know it was that bad," James Crosby said. "All I knew is that DCFS was coming because of my son - my son, he gets in a lot of trouble. That was the only thing I knew. Squatters in and out? No.”

Days after her daughter's death, Semaj's mother Sheri Gordon thanked the community in an emotional statement saying, "I appreciate you guys for your love and support."

A day after Semaj was buried, a fire destroyed the home where she was found dead, burning it to the ground.  

Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services released a 22-page reportdetailing its investigation into the death of the child, but did not say why or how the little girl died.

Read the full DCFS report

The report contains information regarding the various people who inhabited the home, including Semaj's biological parents. It also notes mental health concerns among adults and children living in the home. It states Semaj's cause of death as "unknown" pending the results full autopsy.

The director for DCFS, George Sheldon, resigned roughly one month after her death. 

James Crosby is now in a drug rehabilitation program. 

“I should have been there I should have known exactly what’s going on," he said. "Even if it was an accident or anything, someone needs to say something and I believe it’s going to come.”

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