JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s been a week since Jacksonville’s Sheriff Mike Williams announced remains were found near Demopolis, Alabama. While investigators believe the remains are likely those of missing Jacksonville 5-year-old Taylor Rose Williams, there’s still no confirmation.
The girl’s mother, Brianna Williams, reported her missing a week prior -- prompting an Amber Alert -- but police said they didn’t believe her story and named her a person of interest in her daughter’s disappearance. Hours after the remains were found near the mother’s hometown in Alabama, she was arrested -- but only charged with child neglect and giving false information to investigators.
Detectives haven’t publicly said what they believe happened to the girl, but Karen Smith, a former crime scene investigator with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, is pretty sure police know more than they are saying.
“I’ve worked with these detectives,” said Smith, who is now a forensics lecturer at the University of Florida. “They’re the best in the business. I know them all. I know they’re highly skilled. I know that they know what they’re doing.”
Smith spent years working crime scenes, including several high-profile cases like the murder of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot and killed in 2012 by Michael Dunn outside a Gate gas station in Baymadows. Smith has followed the Taylor Williams case closely and told News4Jax that finding out how she died will be a long process that requires patience.
Smith said the medical examiner is likely using dental records, DNA, clothing samples and a forensic anthropologist to figure out the identity, cause and manner of death -- all very important for an impending criminal case. The longer the remains had been there, the harder it is to confirm the identity.
“We’re dealing with a window from two weeks to six months,” the former evidence tech noted. “That’s a huge window here and the medical examiner will be able to determine within a reasonable amount of time how long those remains (have been) there. As time goes on, you lose evidence, that that’s just a given, especially when the person is out in the elements.”
While forensics can piece together the puzzle, witnesses can help just as much if not more. They can help detectives answer questions like: When was Taylor last seen? Where? Who was active in her life?
“We don’t know if this was an accident or intentional homicide. We don’t know if Taylor Rose had some underlying medical condition and she may have died naturally,” Smith said.
Her mother, Brianna Williams, an active-duty sailor based at NAS Jacksonville, stopped cooperating with investigators one day after reporting her daughter missing, according to Sheriff Williams. Authorities said she remains in the hospital after a suicide attempt the same day the remains were found.
“I’m hoping that Taylor Rose’s mother, Brianna, will come forth with some more information,” Smith said. “I’m really hoping that she will remember that this is a 5-year-old little girl. It was her little girl and I think it’s incumbent upon her to tell us everything that she knows. I’m really hoping that’s what will happen.”
Detectives still asking anyone with details to come forward.