The cause of death for Semaj Crosby, the toddler who was found dead in her Joliet home, has been ruled asphyxia and her death has been declared a homicide, the Will County Coroner's office revealed Friday.
The coroner's office said its homicide ruling was "based on the unusual circumstances surrounding her disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her decomposing body under the couch in her own home, the multiple previous contacts by the Department of Children and Family Services, the suspicious fire at the residence and lack of cooperation from the witnesses."
The case remains under investigation by the Will County Sheriff's office, the coroner's office said.
"The investigation into the death of Semaj Crosby is the highest priority for both the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Will County Sheriff’s Department," said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow in a statement. "All available resources are being deployed in this investigation. The tragic death of this little girl has had a profound impact on all of the prosecutors and investigators involved in this case."
Glasgow said the sheriff's department has met with the Justice For Semaj Action Team and provided as much information to its members "as legally possible."
"However, this is an extremely active and sensitive investigation. It is common for law enforcement agencies to withhold some information from the public to protect the integrity of the investigation," he said. "This is necessary to ensure that any defendant who is identified is appropriately charged and receives a fair trial under the law. Local law enforcement is committed to this case and will take every step possible to find answers and bring justice for Semaj."
Semaj's death remained a mystery for months after she was found dead in April following an intense hours-long search by police and dozens of community members.
On April 27, her body was found under the couch in her family’s home – a home police have said was in “deplorable” conditions, a home she lived in alongside “squatters.”
In the months since the girl’s death, there have been no arrests. An initial autopsy revealed no signs of trauma and no clear indication of how she died.
Detectives said they don’t know when or how Semaj’s body got under the family’s couch. Law enforcement initially searched the house, but since the first reports indicated she had wandered off or was taken, police dedicated the search to surrounding areas.
“It was only until we exhausted every resource we had – we had so many helicopters, hundreds of searchers looking for her – we said, ‘Time out, let’s start from square one,’” said Detective R.J. Austin.
At the time of her disappearance, the girl's mother told authorities her daughter had been playing outside with other children before she wandered away.
Less than three hours earlier, at about 3:20 p.m., investigators with the Department of Child and Family Services said they visited the home and saw the girl alive while investigating the mother for an allegation of neglect. At about 6:30 p.m., the family reported her missing.
Photos released by investigators following the girl's tragic death showed the home she lived in was in "very deplorable conditions." Anywhere from five to 15 people typically lived there at a given time, officials said, adding that the attorney for the girl’s mother told them many of those residents were considered "squatters."
In the months following Semaj's death, the medical examiner's office only said her cause of death was "pending further studies." Austin noted in his Q&A that at the time of her autopsy, Semaj had no visible wounds or blood on her body.
Days after her daughter's death, her mother Sheri Gordon thanked the community in an emotional statement saying, "I appreciate you guys for your love and support."
A day after Semaj was buried, a fire destroyed the home where she was found dead, burning it to the ground.
Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services released a 22-page reportdetailing its investigation into the death of the child, but did not say why or how the little girl died.
The report contains information regarding the various people who inhabited the home, including Semaj's biological parents. It also notes mental health concerns among adults and children living in the home. It states Semaj's cause of death as "unknown" pending the results full autopsy.
The director for DCFS, George Sheldon, resigned roughly one month after her death.
"Somebody knows what happened," Austin said. "I want justice for Semaj. I want justice. I want closure. I want one of them four grown women to come up to me, whether it was an accident or whether it was a crime maybe that they tried to hush."