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Police Quote Sister on How Child Disappeared

Search: Statement about mother 'implies a lot,' investigators say, though facts are hard to ascertain.

May 12, 2000|NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The twin sister of a missing 3-year-old Pomona girl has told authorities and family members that her teenage mother "took Sissy and wrapped Sissy in a jacket and put her in the drain," police said Thursday.

Investigators in the Pomona Police Department said it was difficult to ascertain the truthfulness of the child's remark about her missing sister, Alicia Versluis. No efforts had been made to bring in a child psychiatrist to interview the twin sister, who has remained in protective custody since her mother's arrest on a child-endangerment charge, police said.

"You're talking about a 3-year-old," said Sgt. Joann Crabb. "It's a lead of some sort. It implies a lot, but it doesn't really add any more."

Even so, authorities have searched nearby flood channels. On Wednesday, police dogs were brought once again to sniff out the area around the missing girl's home, a closed Pomona storefront in a commercial neighborhood known for prostitutes and gangs.

Alicia Versluis was reported to have vanished Sunday during a family visit to a popular park about two miles from where she lived. Her mother, Simona Denise Demery, told police she read for a few moments and when she looked up, her daughter had disappeared.

The case has drawn widespread attention because the 19-year-old Demery herself came under scrutiny after reporting the child missing. Authorities arrested the mother and charged her and her live-in boyfriend, Jeffrey Jones, with felony child endangerment, alleging that they lived in a filthy, unsafe home with no running water. Police said they found marijuana.

The home, a former herb shop, will be inspected by a police code enforcement officer to establish whether it is unsuitable for residence, Crabb said. Demery and Jones paid rent, and, depending upon the lease arrangement, Crabb said, the landlord could be fined.

Jones' attorney, Frank H. Williams Jr., said too much attention has focused on the home, the mother and the boyfriend and not enough on search efforts.

"There's still a 3-year-old out there somewhere and this little girl needs to be found," Williams said. "The likelihood of finding her healthy lessens with the amount of time she's missing."

Jones, 24, pleaded not guilty Wednesday and was being held in lieu of $200,000 bail.

Demery's arraignment was postponed because she gave birth Tuesday to a daughter in the jail ward of County-USC Medical Center. The newborn, named Destiny Itisha Jones, has been placed in protective custody. Demery, described as in stable and satisfactory condition, was transferred Thursday morning to a medical facility in Twin Towers Jail, a sheriff's deputy said.

On Thursday, search efforts were reduced to about 10 Pomona police officers--roughly one-third the number assigned when the child was first reported missing, Crabb said.

Police searched the park area Sunday with an Ontario police helicopter, county sheriff's bloodhounds and a San Dimas search and rescue team.

On Wednesday, however, the Pomona Police Department was struck by the so-called blue flu, a labor action in which 59 officers, almost one-third of the force, didn't show up for work. The officers have been without a contract since last July.

Williams, Jones' attorney, said he was concerned that police efforts to find Alicia Versluis were hindered by the labor dispute.

Police Chief Fred Sanchez said the job action had no effect. Normal patrols, he said, were maintained by using sworn officers who usually work behind desks, as well as sheriff's deputies.

"It has not impacted our efforts on the case nor on our ability to handle 911 calls," Sanchez said.

Alicia's father, Doug Versluis, arrived from Salt Lake City earlier this week and met with detectives investigating the girl's disappearance. He told a local TV station that every time he had telephoned to speak with Alicia recently, she had been unavailable.

"Please God," he said, "just give my child back--that's all I ask."

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