Details of Disappearance
Jahi moved to the Golden Hill area of San Diego, California on April 21, 2002. He lived with his mother, Tameka Jones, and stepfather, Tieray Dewayne Jones, in United States military housing in the 3400 block of Beech Street.
Tameka was a sailor in the United States Navy at the time and was deployed aboard the U.S.S. Rushmore while Tieray looked after Jahi. The two apparently slept in the same bed, although the child had a bedwetting problem.
Jahi previously resided with his maternal grandmother in Maryland. Tameka took him to California the day before her deployment. Photos of Tameka and Tieray are posted with this case summary. Jahi's biological father lived in Frederick, Maryland and had recently been released from prison. He and Tameka had not maintained their relationship after she became pregnant, and he had never been part of Jahi's life.
Tieray told authorities that he and Jahi visited Balboa Park in the Golden Hill area near 28th Street and Cedar Street on April 25, 2002. The playground is in the 2800 block of Beech Street.
Tieray said that he left Jahi near the sandbox while he purchased a soda from a nearby vending machine. He stated that a woman and two children were near the area at the time. He claimed that Jahi had vanished by the time he returned. Jahi has never been heard from again.
Tieray searched the park and also walked around the block looking for him for fifteen to twenty minutes, then called 911 to report his disappearance at 2:30 p.m. An extensive search of the area produced no clues as to Jahi's whereabouts. Authorities announced that Tieray said he left his stepson unattended for approximately 15 minutes; Tieray denied the statement and claimed that Jahi was unchaperoned for less than that amount of time.
Investigators released a sketch of the woman Tieray saw in the Balboa Park area on the day Jahi disappeared. The image is posted with this case summary. Authorities identified the individual several days later and said that she provided unspecified information concerning Jahi's case. The woman is not a suspect in the child's disappearance.
Officials were reportedly unable to locate Jahi's fingerprints on the playground equipment, or any witnesses who saw him in the park that day, although police were able to locate everyone who was at the park between noon and 3:00 p.m. This prompted speculation that the child never visited the area at all. In addition, the police were puzzled as to why Tieray would have taken Jahi to Balboa Park, a mile away from home, when there was a park right across the parking lot from their apartment complex.
Authorities stated that the last confirmed sighting of Jahi took place on April 22, two days prior to his reported disappearance, when a neighbor saw him playing at the playground of their apartment complex.
Tameka called Tieray from her ship at 11:00 a.m. on April 23 and asked to speak to Jahi; he only made a few noises and then said, "Bye." Tieray told her Jahi was watching a movie. He also told Tameka that Jahi had wet the bed the previous night, and he stated the boy had fallen off the bed and hit his head on the dresser, but claimed he only had a small bump and the injury was "no big deal."
Multiple witnesses saw Tieray carry one or more large trash bags to the apartment complex dumpster on the morning of April 24; it's possible he made multiple trips. When police asked him about it, he denied having taken out the trash that day. Authorities do not know what was in the bags, because the contents of the dumpster were hauled away before Jahi was reported missing.
Although no one except Tieray saw Jahi after April 23, witnesses did see Tieray alone on April 25. One person saw him walking on Cedar Street towards his apartment complex at noon; three others saw him going into the complex at 12:15 p.m. Tieray had claimed that during this time period he was with Jahi inside their apartment, and he had no explanation for the discrepancy.
Tieray also made numerous phone calls to various acquaintances, asking them for money, during times he told police he was having lunch with Jahi, napping with him and walking to the park with him.
Two hours before he reported Jahi missing, Tieray left two phone messages for Tameka asking her to get in touch about an "emergency". The last call he made was to an ex-girlfriend; he spoke to her for half an hour. Six minutes later, he called 911 and said Jahi was missing.
Both Tameka and Tieray kept daily diaries for each other to read while they were apart from each other. Investigators read Tieray's diary and stated some of the entries indicate Jahi was harmed before his disappearance was reported. In his entry for April 23, Tieray wrote:
"Today for some reason [Jahi] hasn't been moving or really talking. Jahi is starting to act really funny he won't get up off the floor. He's not walking or talking when I tell him to get his cup he just looks at me. I know it's going to take some time. But I don't want him hating me for something I can't control. The bump on his head has gone down I put ice on it. It's gotten a little red."
In diary entries dated 10:30 a.m. on April 24 and 8:54 on April 25, Tieray made no further references to any injury to Jahi or any unusual behavior on the child's part. Instead he wrote about toilet training him, bathing him and taking him to the park.
Tieray complained about frustration over financial matters; he was short of money and, although Tameka had given him her debit card to use while she was deployed, he was having trouble using it and accessing the funds in her account. He also wrote that they were running out of food. However, when investigators checked their apartment, there was plenty of food. Jahi had been given a bag of cookies shortly before his disappearance, and none of them had been eaten.
Tieray had a prior criminal history including drug charges and failure to pay child support in Maryland. He and Tameka allegedly took polygraph tests after Jahi disappeared. Numerous media outlets reported that Tieray failed the exams, but officials refused to confirm the allegations.
Tameka and Tieray began working with a retired social worker to search for Jahi during the summer of 2002, and Jahi's father hired a private investigator to look for his son in September 2002. The private detective cited numerous inconsistencies in Tieray's version of events as reason for concern. Tameka and Tieray later moved back to Maryland and ended their relationship.
In October 2004, Tieray was arrested for attempted murder, assault and other charges in connection with an incident that happened in Frederick, Maryland; no one was harmed in the incident. In January 2005, he was additionally charged with second-degree murder in the case of a Maryland man, John E. "Poochie" Hill, who was shot at a Maryland apartment complex in 2000.
Tieray's trial was just about to begin when prosecutors dropped all the charges against him, as numerous witnesses were unavailable to testify. He later pleaded no contest to assault in another case and was sentenced to five years in prison.
In April 2016, Tieray was arrested in North Carolina and charged with murder and child abuse causing death in Jahi's disappearance. The arrest warrant quoted the writing from Tieray's diary that suggested Jahi was injured.
A specialist in child abuse said the symptoms Tieray described in his diary are consistent with either a serious head injury or blunt force abdominal trauma, either of which could be fatal if left untreated. The child abuse expert also noted that Jahi had a bedwetting problem, and bedwetting can trigger child abuse in caregivers. Tieray had written in his diary and also told Tameka that Jahi wet the bed on the night of April 22 - 23.
One of Jahi's onesies and his blanket, which were found in the apartment, tested positive for the child's blood, and investigators found a pair of Jahi's pajamas in the truck of Tieray's car that also had his blood on them. Tameka, when asked, said there was no reason for any of her son's clothes to be in Tieray's car. Investigators also found some of Jahi's and Tameka's clothing mixed together in a dumpster near the family's apartment; Tameka said she and Tieray had never talked about him throwing away any clothes.
During Tieray's trial in February - March 2018, the judge dismissed the charge of child abuse resulting in death, noting the lack of "substantial physical evidence." He maintained his innocence and testified in his own defense, saying he loved Jahi and would never hurt him, although he admitted to having left him alone for far longer than he initially claimed and to having lied to the police about this.
The jury was unable to reach a verdict, deadlocking at ten to two for acquittal. A mistrial had to be declared. A judge decided that Tieray would not face the jury again for a second trial, stating the prosecution's case was weak and there was no way a jury could find Tieray guilty based on the evidence available, and that it's unlikely any new witnesses will come forward at this point. The judge dismissed the murder charge against Tieray.
Foul play is suspected in Jahi's case due to the circumstances involved.