After five exhaustive days of searching by law enforcement, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said Sunday he found the body of 12-year-old Talaija Dorsey at the edge of a cane field near a wooded area on La. 3127.
The discovery comes five days after the St. James community girl was discovered missing.
“It didn’t end up the way we was hoping,” Martin said at a Sunday afternoon news conference announcing the discovery of the body.
She had been missing since about 7 a.m. Tuesday when a friend stopped by her Pecan Street house so the two could go to summer camp together. When her mother, Emma Dorsey, went to get Talaija from her bedroom, the child was gone.
Martin said he discovered Talaija’s body behind a thick, grassy area in Vacherie at about 10:20 a.m. Sunday. He estimated her body had been there since Tuesday.
The sheriff said Dorsey’s fiancé, John D. Celestine, 43, is a now a suspect in the child’s death.
Celestine was named a person of interest after he was arrested Wednesday when deputies found a pair of Talaija’s slippers in an out-of-use minivan at the family’s home. He was booked on obstruction of justice and a count of false communications.
“We’re still holding that person,” Martin said of Celestine. “We’re hoping that we will find evidence at the scene that will help us.”
The sheriff said he would not release many details about the killing, the state of the body or the exact area where they found her.
“The person that killed her knows exactly how it looks and he won’t be able to say he heard it on TV,” Martin said. He added deputies are not sure if she was killed in the field or was later dumped there.
Authorities had been searching areas in St. James, Assumption and Jefferson parishes where Celestine was known to frequent. Martin said Celestine worked in Jefferson Parish and owned land in Assumption Parish.
The area where Martin found the child was part of a broader area where investigators invested much of their time, even double- and triple-checking areas that had already been searched. Martin said it was a possible route Celestine would take to work.
“We could possibly be passing really close to her and not finding her,” Martin said. “That’s why we kept going back and kept going back.”
Martin said investigators are still running down other leads and interviewing people who may have information, including two people Martin said “we have to rule out” as possibly being involved; however, he said he doesn’t consider the two, whom he did not identify, as suspects. Investigators are trying to determine where the two were at the time the girl disappeared, Martin said.
A cause of death will not be determined until an autopsy is completed. It is expected to be performed in the next day or two.
Martin said authorities closed part of La. 3127 for a few hours Sunday so investigators could work the site without having people crowd the area once word spread that Talaija’s body had been found.
Martin’s voice broke often during the news conference. He had to pause several times while answering questions and tried to maintain his composure while talking about a case he said had become personal for him.
“I took this picture home with me every day, put it on my kitchen table and left with it every morning,” Martin said as he held up a picture of the child. “And my guys can tell you I worked as many hours as they did, and I was determined to bring this case to closure.”
At Talaija’s Pecan Street home, some family members gathered Sunday afternoon to remember the vibrant 12-year-old and console each other.
“We knew she wasn’t going to come back alive, but we wanted the body, we wanted Talaija,” Annette Butler, Talaija’s cousin, said outside the home. “We wanted to have some closure.”
As the hours and days continued to pass without any word from authorities, Butler said the realization began sinking in that Talaija was not going to be found alive.
She said family members worried that they would never find her, leaving them with that nagging question in their minds about what happened to her.
“Nobody knows the truth until we find Talaija’s body,” Butler said. “It’s like a nightmare — nobody can sleep. If you go to sleep, you’re jumping up, you’re waking up wondering where is Talaija.”
She thanked the community for their prayers and support.
“Love, it was shown,” Butler said.
The family had little to say about Celestine. Dorsey has been engaged to Celestine for two years but knew him much longer, authorities have said.
Dorsey was “shell-shocked” Sunday morning after Martin broke the news to her that he found her daughter’s body, Butler said. Once Martin delivered the news, word spread quickly as the large family began calling and texting each other.
Most of Talaija’s large family gathered at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church on River Road, close to the Pecan Street home.
Immediate family members did not comment, but the Rev. Samuel Jones, pastor of Mount Calvary, said the family is struggling with grief in the aftermath of the news that Talaija was dead.
“It’s been a rough one,” Jones said. “But I’m glad we got closure.”
Jones baptized Talaija and said that he’s also related to her — Talaija is the granddaughter of Jones’ aunt.
He said she was a happy, smiling child who regularly attended Bible study classes at the church. Her death, he said, has brought the community together.
“Me, I want to remember her as she was,” Jones said.
Funeral arrangements have not been set, but family members said the funeral would be at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church where Talaija was baptized and she would be buried in the cemetery behind the church.
Advocate staff reporter Daniel Bethencourt contributed to this article. Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter, @ryanmbroussard.