CHICAGO (CBS) — As a funeral was held Friday for 16-month-old Semaj Crosby, the family’s pastor said her mother “may be responsible “for the toddler’s death, but added it’s still a “tragic” loss for Sheri Gordon.
Some mourners wore shirts reading “Team Semaj,” as Semaj’s body was displayed in a tiny white and gold casket at the base of the altar at Prayer Tower Ministries Church of God in Christ in Joliet. The word “princess” was written inside the lid of the open casket and “God’s Little Angel” was projected on two screens nearby.
Semaj’s parents sat at the front of the church in separate pews. People stopped by to hug each of them.
Pastor Warren Dorris, a relative of Semaj’s mother, Sheri Gordon, said she is “not doing well” after her daughter’s death.
“She does not know what to expect after the service. This is now a criminal investigation officially, and she’s really worried,” he said. “Let me tell you something. Let me make this very clear. Whatever happened to this child, whoever was responsible for this needs to be held accountable.”
Semaj’s body was found under a couch with no legs on April 27 in Gordon’s filthy bug-infested home in Joliet Township, after a massive search effort. Semaj had been reported missing two days earlier. Police have not said where Semaj died, but have confirmed the case is now a criminal investigation.
While Dorris said, while Gordon might be responsible for Semaj’s death, he was there for her Friday to provide comfort.
“You’ve got to remember, you’ve got a mother – regardless – has lost a child. Even though she may be responsible, she’s lost a child,” Dorris said.
Dorris said, regardless of who is responsible for Semaj’s death, it’s heartbreaking.
“It’s very tragic that we’re here today. We have a child that has gone away, and we really don’t know why, and one thing we do want is justice for this child,” he added.
Dorris said a Will County Judge was right to remove Gordon’s three other children from her custody, after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services “failed,” in his words, to do so.
DCFS caseworkers had visited the family home less than three hours before Semaj was reported missing, but found “no obvious hazards or safety concerns” that would have required the removal of the children.
DCFS director George Sheldon has defended the decision not to remove Semaj or the other children from the home, saying squalid conditions do not equal neglect.
“An untidy or dirty home doesn’t mean we remove the child, because the child may be loved and cared for – but they may be poor,” Sheldon said at an Illinois Senate committee hearing this week.
Sheldon said filth alone is not enough to remove children.
“Based on what I have seen – and I’ve seen some of the records and read a significant amount of them — none of the instances in that home warranted removal,” he said.
Will County authorities also had visited Crosby’s home dozens of times over the past year. Probation officers came to Semaj Crosby’s home 40 times, and Will County Sheriff’s officers made 14 visits, including two for welfare checks.
The Will County Coroner’s office has not yet determined the cause of Semaj’s death. An autopsy last week was inconclusive, pending further studies.