Police believe missing 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley's body was dumped in a landfill

FILE - 5-year-old Jahessye Shockley is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the Glendale Police Department. Police scaled down the number of officers and volunteers searching for Shockley who has been missing for three days from about 100 to a couple dozen on Friday.
AP Photo/Glendale Police Department, File
Jhessye Shockley
File,AP Photo/Glendale Police Department

(CBS/AP) PHOENIX - Police said Wednesday morning they believe missing 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley's body was left in a trash bin across town and then dumped in a landfill before her mother reported her missing Oct. 11.

CBS affiliate KPHO reports that police said this new information regarding Jhessye was obtained from leads after her mother, Jerice Hunter, was arrested in November on suspicion of child abuse.

Police did not say specifically who they think killed Jhessye, although they've previously said the girl's mother is their "No. 1 focus."

Law enforcement officials did not say what evidence led them to believe the girl's body was dumped, but say the information was "substantive." Police Sgt. Brent Coombs said detectives are deciding the feasibility of searching a landfill where they believe Jhessye's body could have ended up.

Coombs said they are evaluating the chances of finding her there after the search, and that the decision to do so will be made in the "coming weeks."

"You have to identify things like which truck picked up a trash on a certain day, what time it went to the transfer station, what truck took it out to a landfill, you have to narrow it down as best as you can and I'm putting it very simplistically, so it's much more than that so those are the kinds of things that take a long time to identify," he said.

The Los Angeles Times reports that according to court papers, after Jhessye vanished, child welfare workers removed Hunter's other three children from her home.

Hunter's 13-year-old eventually told police that Hunter had instructed the children to lie to police about Jhessye wandering off, court papers said. Hunter told them to tell officials the last time they'd seen Jhessye was in September, weeks before her reported disappearance.

Court papers state the teenager told investigators that Hunter kept a bruised and black-eyed Jhessye in a closet. The 13-year-old compared Jhessye to a zombie and the closet to a grave that "smelled like dead people." The teen also said that Hunter had tried to use incense to mask the smell.

A little while before Hunter reported Jhessye missing, the teenager was quoted saying Hunter cleaned her shoes and the closet with bleach.

Hunter was released a few days after her arrest without any charges. Prosecutors told the Associated Press they didn't want to box themselves out of later charging her with murder.

Hunter has maintained her innocence.