The first hint that something was wrong, Jackquailine Hardin said, came when she called her best friend Sunday night to see how her youngest daughter was doing.
Jhornee Bland, 2, had spent the weekend with Tyerria Miles, Hardin said. Two of Jhornee’s older sisters had spent Saturday with Miles, too, before returning home after a pool party.
Jhornee was found dead in a field in the 1900 block of North Hydraulic on Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after her mother reported her missing. Miles, 25, has been arrested in connection with Jhornee’s death.
“I just buried my mother a year ago,” Hardin said Tuesday, her voice wavering. “Now I’ve got to bury my own child. This is going to be very hard for me.”
Police are awaiting autopsy results to determine how Jhornee died. Miles, who is pregnant, is being housed in the Sedgwick County Jail’s medical clinic, police said. She is being held on suspicion of aggravated child endangerment and stolen property, but those offenses could be amended depending on what the autopsy reveals.
Her bond has been set at $100,000.
Evidence in the case will be presented to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office later this week, said police spokeswoman Nikki Woodrow.
At a vigil Tuesday night, nearly 200 people showed up in the 1900 block of North Hydraulic. Families and friends carried candles, stuffed toys and balloons. Many sobbed; all had faces showing shock.
Two makeshift memorials were created, one at the spot where Jhornee’s body was found, another about 20 feet south of the location so Hardin, during the vigil, would not have to see the area where her daughter’s body was discovered.
No street-closing permit had been granted by the city in time for the vigil. But there were so many people standing in the street, a Wichita police officer swung her car into the middle of Hydraulic to block it.
“I want to thank everybody for coming out,” Andy Bland, Jhornee’s father, told the crowd. “We appreciate everybody coming out to be with this mother in her time of grieving.”
People offered their prayers, donations and hugs as Jackquailine Hardin was surrounded.
The nearly 48 hours after her daughter was reported missing had taken their toll.
‘What did you do?’
On Sunday, when Hardin said she contacted Miles to check on Jhornee, Miles told her she had taken Jhornee to a mutual friend’s apartment Sunday morning after she said Hardin called to suggest it.
“She says I called her,” Hardin said. “I never spoke with her all day until I called her to see how Jhornee was doing.”
Miles drove Hardin to an apartment complex at Oliver and 31st Street South, but the mutual friend doesn’t live there, Hardin said.
“I don’t know nobody out there,” she said. “It’s very strange.”
Miles later said she gave Jhornee to a 9-year-old girl with a woman standing in the doorway, Hardin said.
On the drive south, Hardin said, Miles “punched the steering wheel real hard.” Uttering a profanity, she added, “What did I do?”
“I’m like, ‘What did you do?’ ” Hardin said.
“She was with me,” Hardin said Miles told her. “I was supposed to be watching her.”
When they arrived at the apartment Miles said she took Jhornee to, Hardin discovered it was vacant. She said she knocked on doors, asking strangers whether they had seen her little girl.
No one had.
That’s when she decided to call 911. It was about 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
Police brought Hardin and Miles to the Exploited and Missing Child Unit downtown. After hours of interviews, she said, detectives told her Miles’ story wasn’t adding up.
Hardin said she finally left the EMCU at about 8 a.m. Monday. She went to the store to get a few things and on the way home noticed police cars congregated next to a wheat field along Hydraulic.
“I just knew something wasn’t right,” Hardin said.
She said she pulled up next to some officers and asked, “Are you looking for something? Is it my baby?”
She parked and was approaching the field when a woman came up to her and mentioned they were putting up crime scene tape. She said she waited there until she was notified that they had found her little girl.
She said she still doesn’t know when or how Jhornee died. She’s hoping the autopsy will offer some answers.
Hardin said she aches to cradle her baby. But all she can cradle now are memories.
Jhornee loved to laugh and ride her bike. She loved it so much she would even ride it in the apartment that was her home.
“She was always happy, always had a smile on her face. … She loved to give kisses,” Hardin said.
She lit up a room just by scampering into it.
“Everybody loved her eyes,” Hardin said. “She was just beautiful.”
She was the youngest of seven children and adored her three brothers and three sisters, her mom said.
Hardin said she doesn’t just struggle with the loss of her baby, she’s stunned by Miles’ possible role in it. Police have said they have no other suspects in the case.
“This was my best friend,” she said. “I never thought she would do me like that. … I have so much hatred towards her.”
Hardin said she’s grateful for all the support expressed on social media by residents of the community. She’s going to need a lot of support to get through the days ahead, she said.
“I just wish I could have my baby back and hold her and kiss her, and that she’d have a chance to live her life,” Hardin said.
Contributing: Beccy Tanner of The Eagle
Why no Amber Alert?
An Amber Alert was not issued in the disappearance involving Jhornee Bland because the case did not meet the criteria for the alert to be issued, said Wichita police spokeswoman Nikki Woodrow. Here are the federal guidelines that need to be met for an Amber Alert to be issued.
▪ There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
▪ The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
▪ There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
▪ The abduction is of a child 17 or younger.
▪ The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center system.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice