DUSON — Keiosha “Red” Felix was 15 years old when she left her aunt’s house on a late spring day in 2012, and she hasn’t been heard from or seen since.
A mother at 14, Keiosha was in state custody and on a weekend pass to visit her paternal aunt, Patricia Andrus, at her Duson home when she disappeared. Her daughter, who is now almost 4 years old, has been in state custody since.
“Three years and not a word. Nothing. It’s just unbelievable to us,” said Lena Lewis, Keiosha’s maternal aunt. “We just sit there like, ‘Where is she?’ We’re like, ‘Red, where are you? Where are you?’ ”
The case is open but “inactive,” especially since tips have dried up over the last two years, said Capt. John Babin, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
“They’re presuming that she’s still alive, and they’re working the investigation as if she’s still alive until there’s anything to the contrary,” Babin said.
Within a year of Keiosha’s disappearance, nine local, state and federal law enforcement agencies between Louisiana and Texas had dedicated about 2,300 hours of manpower and had explored 27 tips from Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Minnesota, Maryland, Oregon and California, the Sheriff’s Office said.
One of those tips brought a northeast Texas teen home to her own family in fall 2012, but Keiosha was not found.
“There’s really not a whole lot that’s come up since,” Babin said of new tips.
Babin said investigators never identified a man sought as a potential witness in Keiosha’s case. He was captured in an AT&T store’s surveillance footage and investigators determined he somehow had access to Keiosha’s smartphone.
Investigators also haven’t found a connection between the man in those images and a silver and black 2009 Dodge Charger SXT that was of interest in the case, Babin said.
Keiosha’s story gained the public’s attention on the heels of the disappearance of 21-year-old Mickey Shunick in summer 2012. But although widespread media attention was brought to Shunick’s case within hours after she went missing, it took weeks for the media to focus on Keiosha’s disappearance. The teen was considered a runaway for more than two months before Duson police reclassified her as an endangered missing child and alerted local media.
Keiosha had been gone for more than a month when Lewis received word she was missing. Ever since, Lewis said, she’s considered all possibilities for her niece’s fate.
“I have thought of so many things, including if there was any way she just didn’t want to come back, thinking the state or whoever was going to mess with her,” Lewis said.
At the time of her disappearance, Keiosha had turned 15 years old three weeks earlier and was living in a now-shuttered state-run home for teen mothers in Lafayette. Keiosha’s daughter was about 9 months old, and the teenager’s mother was in jail.
Although law enforcement has never labeled Keiosha’s disappearance as the result of child sex trafficking, “All aspects of this case are being considered and looked into,” Babin said.
Text messages leaked when the Duson Police Department was leading the case revealed that at one point the investigation was focused on whether she had been a victim of child sex trafficking.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1 in 6 endangered runaways reported to the organization were found to likely be a sex trafficking victim, and 68 percent of those children were in the care of social services when they went missing.
“(Child sex traffickers are) targeting children who have already had some type of abuse or neglect in their family history that caused them to be removed from the home and placed in state care,” said Melissa Snow, child sex trafficking specialist with the organization.
From Keiosha’s disappearance on April 30, 2012, until mid-September 2012, the Duson Police Department was in charge of the case and the city’s assistant police chief, Lt. Gerald Credeur, led the investigation. In July 2012, he arrested four people in the case.
Leon Wilkerson Jr. — then the boyfriend of Keiosha’s paternal aunt, Andrus, whose Duson home is where Keiosha was last seen — was arrested in Zachary on a warrant for second-degree kidnapping and simple rape of Keiosha.
Over the next couple of days, Andrus, her daughter, Portia Felix, and Wilkerson’s brother, Ronald Wilkerson, also were arrested in the girl’s disappearance.
Andrus was arrested on counts of accessory after the fact to simple rape and improper supervision of a minor by a parent or legal custodian.
Wilkerson’s brother, Ronald Wilkerson, was arrested at a West Baton Rouge Parish motel on a warrant for simple kidnapping, and Andrus’ daughter, Portia Felix — who shared a home with Andrus at the time — was arrested on a count of obstructing justice based on allegations she lied to police about having contact with Keiosha after she disappeared.
But formal charges were never filed against the four. At the time, District Attorney Mike Harson called the accusations “hearsay” — and the Wilkerson brothers filed federal lawsuits against former Duson Police Chief Frank Andrew and Credeur.
Leon Wilkerson was released from jail two days after Andrew told the town’s Board of Aldermen that Credeur had illegally arrested two people for kidnapping, given false testimony and made an illegal search and seizure during the investigation.
Credeur ended up getting fired because of the arrests, with Duson’s Board of Aldermen determining he made them without probable cause.
In turn, Credeur filed his own suit for damages in the 15th Judicial District Court, which was settled in November.
The Wilkersons asked for compensatory and punitive damages and attorney costs. Both men said they lost their jobs because of the accusations and arrests that were not based on probable cause.
Their suits were settled in February, but it’s unknown how much money they were paid.
Attorneys in both the Wilkersons’ and Credeur’s cases did not respond to requests for the settlement terms. The brothers and Keiosha’s relatives accused in the case have since changed addresses and could not be located for this story. Credeur also was unreachable.
“I wish they would have left (Credeur) on the case,” Lewis said. “He was really trying so hard. I really feel that they let him go because he was getting close to something.”
But the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation.
Now Kip Judice, who was involved with the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation, has been appointed police chief of Duson.
“My ears and eyes are open. And if there’s something that develops, I will certainly channel that information to the Sheriff’s Office,” Judice said.
A few days before he took office as Duson’s police chief, Judice said he got a few tips from some of the town’s residents about “some stuff that’s been heard on the streets of Duson” pertaining to the case, but he didn’t disclose the information.
Judice also recalled the man pictured in the AT&T surveillance photo.
“We never identified that gentleman. That was kind of a lingering issue with the case,” he said.
A $5,000 reward from the FBI remains standing for information that helps bring Keiosha home, and the NCMEC in August released an age-progressed photo of what the girl may look like at age 17.
Keiosha turned 18 on April 8, and her daughter, who remains in the state’s custody, will turn 4 in August.
Lewis said she and other family members are always thinking of Keiosha, and they share tales of spotting men resembling the burly mystery man pictured in the AT&T store wearing a bucket hat, white T-shirt and a rosary around his neck.
“I pray that God can give us closure. Give us signs. Give us something,” Lewis said. “Somebody has to know something.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825