Semaj Crosby — the toddler found dead in a Joliet Township home that days later burned to the ground — is a homicide victim who died from suffocation or some other form of asphyxia, the Will County coroner’s office ruled Friday after a months-long investigation.
The homicide determination was based in part on “the unusual circumstances surrounding her disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her decomposing body under the couch in her own home,” as well as “the multiple previous contacts by the [state] Department of Children and Family Services” with her family.
In a statement, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office called Semaj’s case the “highest priority” for Will County authorities, who are vowing to “bring justice for Semaj.”
“All available resources are being deployed in this investigation,” the statement from Jim Glasgow’s office said. “The tragic death of this little girl has had a profound impact on all of the prosecutors and investigators involved in this case.”
Glasgow’s office called the matter “an extremely active and sensitive investigation.”
Neil Patel, an attorney representing Semaj’s mother, Sheri Gordon, said the coroner’s ruling was “not a finding that surprises us.”
“We are doing everything we can to cooperate with the sheriff’s investigation to the best of our abilities,” Patel said. “Our concern right now is bringing to justice the people that did this horrible thing.”
Asked to identify who those people might be, Patel declined to elaborate.
Semaj lived in an 864-square-foot home in the 300 block of Louis Road in Joliet Township with her mother, three siblings, paternal grandmother, paternal aunt, her aunt’s two young children and her aunt’s parolee boyfriend. Gordon’s Section 8 housing voucher was allotted for only her and her children, Joliet housing officials previously have said.
The sheriff’s office said the home was in “very deplorable” condition when the child was found dead under a couch shortly before midnight on April 26.
The day before, DCFS had been at the home investigating a child-neglect allegation but saw “no obvious hazards or safety concerns” for Semaj or her siblings, state officials said. Semaj, her three siblings and mother all slept in the same bedroom.
About two-and-a-half hours after the visit from DCFS, the toddler was reported missing, prompting a massive search of her subdivision near Joliet. Eventually, police sought to search the home, but police said a lawyer for Gordon wouldn’t let them do so until they obtained a search warrant, which they did.
Less than two weeks after Semaj was found dead, the house burned to the ground. Authorities said arson was “most likely” the cause.
In response to a Sun-Times’ Freedom of Information Act Request in May, the Will County sheriff’s office disclosed that either sheriff’s police or Will County probation officials had come to Semaj’s Joliet Township house 59 times between February 2016 and April 2017.
Forty of those calls were for probation checks. And two of those calls were for “welfare checks,” one of them in October 2016 and one on March 4, 2017, records show.
In the October call, officers were not able to make contact with the family.
It was unclear if contact with the family was made during the March visit, and officers wrote that a follow-up report would be filed, though it is unclear whether that occurred.
Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout