Tue, 16 Jul 2013 06:28 UTC
Terry, known as JuJu, lived with his mother Shawna Smith and her lesbian partner Denise, his 14 year old half-sister Mary Atilano and his 16 year old half-brother Skylar Atilano, in a small rural community about half-way between, and a bit east of, Los Angeles and San Diego. Once a small farming town from California's early days, Menifee has grown to approximately 80,000 residents in the last few decades and only recently incorporated as a city. Terry's home was located in area that has seen very little change during the development boom and is referred to as "Old Menifee". That area is known for having pockets of poverty, with drug use rampant among a certain percentage of the population that is made up of mostly "old time" families that have lived in the valley since well before the boom. Terry's home is located in one of those pockets just south of the center of "Old Menifee", the Menifee Market.
The community first became aware of Terry's disappearance on Sunday July 7th. The initial story circulating was that Terry's mother left for the evening at 7:30pm on Saturday to play on her pool league at a local bar and left 11 year Terry in bed, with his older brother Skylar looking after him. She returned late and did not check in on Terry until the next morning at 10:30 am when she realized he was missing. She notified police and news spread quickly in town that a small autistic boy had possibly wandered off and was lost in the rocky and desolate hills of Menifee in 100F temperatures wearing only basketball shorts and no shirt or shoes. Bloodhounds had traced his scent to the end of the dirt road near the family's home. Here is the Riverside County Sheriff's press release with a list of agencies that assisted in the effort.
By Monday afternoon, there were literally hundreds of local residents and residents of nearby communities out in the extreme heat searching a 55 mile radius around his home. A volunteer command center was set up at the Menifee Market, in sight of his home. Donations of food and water for the searchers from local business and residents were coming in by the truckload. His mother informed authorities that Terry Jr. was autistic and searchers were cautioned to approach the boy cautiously because he would not have been taking his regular medication. A monetary donation account had been set up at a local bank. Search coordinators were at the market directing groups and individual searchers on where to look based on tips coming in from callers to the tip line. A few tips and sightings came in. Searchers were out in cars, on horseback, in ATVs, on motorcycles and on foot. Riverside County Sheriff and Fire Department was also out in force with helicopters and on the ground. A Facebook page had been set up to coordinate the effort, now called 'Remembering Terry Smith'.
By this time, the local news stations were covering the story. It emerged that Skylar had left the home Saturday night and walked to a friend's house and that Terry had followed behind him. Skylar told the boy to go home and, even though he didn't want to, he turned and started walking back towards his home and was last seen walking down the dirt road back towards his house.
As the search effort and community prayer vigil continued around the clock, details of the family began to emerge. Terry's father, Terry Smith, a retired truck driver, began speaking to the media from his home in Virginia and countered his ex-wife's claim about him being autistic. Terry Sr. stated that his son had only recently been put on medication for ADHD. Terry's father also said that Terry had called him shortly before asking to come home to live with the him and his other siblings. Rumors began circulating regarding whether or not the family's property had been searched, a search warrant had been served, or if the FBI was involved.
Neither the mother nor the brother spoke to the media, although I believe at one point the little sister did. The mother was at the command center at times and the brother had requested help with finding his brother through his Facebook page. On the last evening of the search, Tuesday 9th July, he was at the command center with his friends making posters.
At some point, Mary, the 14 year old sister posted, on her Instagram page that her brother had been found and that he was in pieces. Wednesday morning 10th July the announcement came that remains had been found on the property and investigators were working to determine whether or not they were human or animal. Several press releases were scheduled and postponed throughout the day. At 4 pm Riverside County Sheriff announced that the body of Terry Smith Jr. had been found in a shallow grave on the family's property and that a 16 year relative was in custody and being charged with murder.
Once again the community came out en masse to the Menifee Market and the boy's home Wednesday evening for a prayer vigil. The mayor attended and gave a lengthy speech. A closed Facebook group named 'Skylar is Innocent' was created, as well as an open group named 'Justice for Terry!!!' A lot of anger and outrage was expressed about the situation on the internet, especially regarding how authorities handled the case and what was to happen with the monetary donations that had been made. A petition began to circulate on Facebook, calling for a 'Terry's Law' to allow law enforcement to search the home of any missing child without a search warrant.
In the morning of Thursday 11th July the father spoke with the media again in regards to the dynamics of the family and the situation. He also stated that he had been advised that if his son was not cremated then the service would have to be a closed casket. Rumors began to circulate about how the boy was eventually found, specifically that a local psychic woman had actually found him. KFI news radio in Los Angeles was able to get the intuitive, Pam Ragland, on the air by Thursday evening and she described her story in detail, much to their disbelief.
here, with both Pam Ragland and John Powers speaking.
Skylar Atilano's scheduled hearing on Monday July 15th to determine whether or not he will be tried as an adult was postponed until September 17th. The judge, citing a previous history of "violent outbursts" and a violation of probation, in the meantime ordered Atilano sent to the juvenile wing of the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.
Ultimately, two young lives were lost here and an entire community was forced to take off their rose-colored glasses. As this story unfolds I am sure that new light will be shed on its ugliness. My personal account of this past week may not be as objective as it could be, as I admit to experiencing feelings of strong panic and deep sorrow over this situation. Sometimes it is difficult for me to look upon the ugliness of this world, especially if it is within near proximity to my own family. I feel that there is much strangeness to this story and I am left with many questions about how something like this could happen to two young lives. I am also seeking a level of understanding of how it was possible for a woman and her daughter over 60 miles away to find what the authorities from many local agencies, the FBI, over a thousand people searching and three days of prayer vigil mere yards away, could not find.
Comment: Sadly, stories of children murdering children - assuming that this is what happened in this case - are all too common in today's world. Although numerous charlatans are found among 'psychic detective' types, a number of murder cases have been solved thanks to tip-offs from people who can see/sense/intuit/read into the crimes.