Ten days after she reportedly went missing from a car parked outside of a Gary, Indiana convenience store, two-year-old Jada Justice was found dead Thursday in a nearby swamp.
Authorities announced on Friday that the remains indeed were the missing toddler, and she had been burned and encased in concrete before an attempt was made to dispose of her body.
Also on Friday, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter announced that Engelica Castillo, 18, and her boyfriend, Tim Tkachik, 23, both of Hobart, have been charged with murder, two counts of neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing.
Castillo is the cousin of Jada’s mother, Melissa Swiontek.
According to an affidavit filed in connection with the case, Castillo told police that she routinely took care of the toddler for days and was scheduled to return the girl to her parents on June 20.
The affidavit says Tkachik told police that Castillo had beaten the child severely on the head on June 13 after they had both used heroin, and they noticed Jada wasn’t breathing when they drove to buy more heroin that evening.
“I told you to stop. I told you enough is enough,” Tkachik said he told Castillo, according to the affidavit. The pair allegedly repeatedly tried CPR to revive the child.
According to the affidavit, the pair took Jada to their home and, thinking she was still breathing, took her into the house. Once they realized she was dead, the document says, they decided to get rid of the body.
Tkachik allegedly put the body in garbage bags the next day and took it to a wooded area in LaPorte County, where he tried unsuccessfully to burn it, causing an explosion that burned his face and required hospital treatment. Tkachik blamed the burns on a propane grill, police said.
Castillo and Tkachik then took the body home again, the affidavit said, and on June 15 entombed the remains in a tub full of concrete. After the concrete dried, the pair took it to a rural area near Westville and sank it in a swamp, according to the document.
On Thursday, Tkachik led police to the area where the body was hidden, and FBI agents recovered the remains that were later identified as Jada’s, the affidavit said.
Thursday’s discovery ended days of almost constant searching by a team that included local, state and federal law enforcement.
Gary Police Commander Anthony Titus last week told BlackAmericaWeb.com that law enforcement officers were using dogs, helicopters and highly trained officers to search for the child.
Her mother, father, friends and relatives handed out flyers around the area where she was supposed to have gone missing.
Still, the case of the missing black toddler from Portage, Indiana, did not receive the same national news focus as other cases in recent months, including Haleigh Cummings and Kaylee Anthony.
Support among friends, however, remained strong Saturday.
At a park in East Chicago, 200 silver and pink balloons were released in memory of Jada. Her parents and her siblings were there for the event, according to an article published in the Post-Tribune.
Clarence Justice, Jada’s father said his faith in God and support from Calvary Tabernacle Church has helped through the ordeal.
“For the past two weeks, I’ve been running, so I haven’t been able to really cry about this situation,” Justice told the Post Tribune. “I’m going to miss everything about her.”