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Jhessye ShockleyAt 7:00 a.m. this morning, more than 40 people, including the FBI and the child Abduction Response Team began a search through 6,000 tons of trash in Arizona’s Butterfield Station Landfill in hopes of finding the body of 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley, reports AZCentral.com.

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The nation has been on high-alert, frantically searching for a trace of little Jhessye Shockley since her reported disappearance on October 11, 2011 from the Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Glendale. Detectives previously stated that they believe the girl has been dead at least that long, murdered and then dumped in a trash bin before being reported missing by her mother, thirty-eight year old Jerice Hunter.

Glendale police Sgt. Brent Coombs confirmed that Hunter is still the “No. 1 focus.”

Hunter was arrested on a child abuse charge in November of 2011 related to Jhessye, and at that time, authorities said they doubted they would find the child alive. Prosecutors were hesitant to pursue the child abuse charge because if convicted, they assert that she would not have been able to be charged with her daughter’s murder if, indeed, she was determined to be responsible.

Hunter told police that she left the house to run errands for her older children, only to return home to find Jhessye gone.

According to court documents, Jhessye’s older sister said that her mother was lying and that not only had she not seen her sister since September, but that her mother was cleaning her shoes and a closet that she kept her in a few days before reporting her missing.

“[She] reported that Jhessye’s hair had been pulled out and described Jhessye as not looking alive and that she looked like a zombie,” the document said. “[She] said that the closet where Jhessye had been looked like a grave and smelled like dead people.”

The teen further claimed that her sister had black eyes, cuts and bruises, and was deprived of food and water while she was in the closet.

In October 2005, Hunter was arrested with her then-husband, George Shockley, on child abuse charges. She pleaded “no contest” to corporal punishment, serving four years in prison before being released for parole in May 2010. Shockley is a registered sex-offender and remains in a California prison.

Child welfare workers removed all of Hunter’s other children from the home after little Jhessye was reported missing, and to date, Hunter refuses to submit to a lie-detector test.

“Our agency’s hope is that we are successful in finding Jhessye’s remains, allowing her a proper internment, and ultimately bringing to justice the person or persons responsible for her death,” Coombs said in a statement, according to CBS.

Hunter’s attorney, Scott Maasen, has questioned the length of time that it has taken the police to begin the search:

“They said almost two months ago they were possibly going to search the landfill,” Maasen said. “It begs the question, why has there been a delay for so long?”

Butterfield Station Landfill is approximately 180 feet by 200 feet and more than 20 feet deep and authorities claim they spent those months preparing and assessing the situation, according to AZCentral.com.

“There’s such a scientific method behind trying to pinpoint a location within a particular cell within that landfill. It’s a very difficult thing to do,” Coombs said. “The reason [we’ve taken] such a long time is we wanted to be as confident as we can be prior to starting any operation that we’re going to do the very best job we can.”

Though questions continue to mount over the length of time that has been wasted while little Jhessye remains missing, police Chief Steve Conrad says that justice for the little girl is his utmost priority:

“We want nothing more than to find Jhessye and hold the person who is responsible for her death accountable,” police Chief Steve Conrad said, according to CBS-5. “I feel we owe that to her, her family and the community.”

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