ST. JAMES — Authorities have made an arrest in the disappearance of a 12-year-old, booking the fiancé of the girl’s mother on obstruction of justice, St. James officials announced late Wednesday.
Deputies booked John D. Celestine, 43, who lived in the Pecan Street home with the family, on felony obstruction of justice and a false communication count, said Maj. Sid Berthelot, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Celestine was being held in the parish jail in Convent awaiting setting of bail. Because of the potential of additional charges against Celestine, investigators are not releasing further information, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
As of Wednesday night, Talaija Dorsey had not been located, despite a search by the Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, State Police and law enforcement agencies from neighboring parishes.
Talaija was discovered missing about 7 a.m. Tuesday when a friend came to her house to go with her to a nearby summer camp. When Talaija’s mother went to get her, the girl was not in her bedroom.
“She was last seen, by a family member, at 5 a.m. Her sister saw her in the house,” St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin said Wednesday afternoon outside the trailer home where Talaija lives with her mother, three siblings, grandfather and Celestine.
Relatives, neighbors and friends were gathered in the heat outside the home at 8308 Pecan St., a one-lane road off La. 18, with homes and trailers on one side of the road and sugar cane fields on the other.
Sheriff’s deputies could be seen around 1:30 p.m. searching a white mini-van that was up on blocks in the yard outside the trailer home.
Martin said he could not comment on the search of the mini-van, other than to say someone told officers they had seen someone standing near the vehicle on the day of Talaija’s disappearance.
Officers have searched the area and fields by foot and on four-wheelers, Martin said, as well as by air with the use of two helicopters from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“Every deputy is in the search in the St. James community,” Martin said.
Lawrence Smith, Talaija’s grandfather, said his daughter, Emma Dorsey, and her four children, of whom Talaijah is the eldest, have lived with him in his home on Pecan Street since the children were little.
He was at work Tuesday morning when his daughter called him and said she couldn’t find Talaija, he said.
“I left everything” and came home, Smith said.
“She loved to smile,” he said of his eldest granddaughter. “She was always clowning around” with the family.
Talaija’s father, Terrance Dorsey, who lives in Donaldsonville, said he headed for St. James on Tuesday morning when he got the call from Talaija’s mother that their daughter was missing.
Dorsey, along with other relatives and members of the community, were gathered Wednesday at Fifth Ward Elementary School off La. 18, which is being used as a command center for the search.
“Right now, in this moment, I’m not in my right mind,” he said. “I’m just worried she might be harmed.”
Nearby, Joanna Jones, a first cousin of Talaija’s mother, said Talaija “is such a sweet child. She’s a beautiful, beautiful child, a very smart child.”
“This is the first time this has happened in our community,” resident Kayata Mayo said outside Fifth Ward Elementary, which is not far from Talaija’s home and is the school Talaija attends.
Mayo and other residents said they were there to volunteer to search on foot, if directed to do so by the sheriff.
At around 3 p.m., Martin asked the residents to come into the front lobby of the school and held a short meeting, urging them to use all their contacts, through Facebook and other means, to see if anyone saw anything suspicious in the early morning hours on Tuesday.
He said that law enforcement officers will be continuing the search in the community and surrounding areas.
“We will not give up,” Martin said.