LaToya Robinson said she was “so happy” when Sheri Gordon told her she was going to be the godmother of her daughter Sema’j Crosby. Robinson, 33, was childhood friends with Gordon and would help her out a lot, which included babysitting her children.
“I was coming around,” Robinson said. “We were doing a lot together.”
But eventually, Robinson said she saw the Crosby family, including Darlene Crosby, Sema’j’s grandmother, and Lakerisha Crosby, Sema’j’s aunt, mistreating Gordon.
“Me being Sheri’s friend, I saw how they were treating her, how they mistreated her [and] how they would be verbally abusive to her,” Robinson said. The May 27 Department of Child and Family Services report on the case did confirm what Gordon’s lawyers described were “elements in Ms. Gordon’s life who took advantage of her, leading to her ‘victimization.’ ”
Robinson would ask Gordon to make the Crosby family leave the house, but the Crosby family would try to intervene. Robinson thought the Crosby family was taking advantage of Gordon. Robinson would eventually be disallowed from coming to the home and seeing Gordon’s children.
But when Sema’j went missing April 25, Robinson was among the many people searching for her. The Crosby family’s disinterest in helping the search and inconsistent explanations regarding when they last saw Sema’j frustrated Robinson. Sema’j’s body was found about midnight April 27 in the home under a couch.
In the nearly two months since Sema’j’s death, Robinson and a group of local women are still demanding answers to what happened. Chief Deputy Coroner Kevin Stevenson said there are still no updates or timeline as to when updates would be released although it is usually the case that toxicology testing takes longer for children for a variety of reasons. Toxicology test results generally take about four to six weeks to come in for an adult.
Because they had no answers, Robinson and the local women formed the Justice for Sema’j Action Team. They’ve taken donations of clothes, toys and gift cards for Sema’j’s siblings and are collecting signatures to rename a park after Sema’j as a memorial for her. Last week, the group attended a Will County Board meeting with posters showing Sema’j to hold a silent vigil in an attempt to remind the board they are waiting for answers.
But they are also trying to apply pressure to government officials to hold DCFS accountable.
They started an online petition requesting Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office to “review the standard operating procedures of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.”
They are specifically concerned whether follow through practices are being executed on a consistent basis. Dietra Jones, a member of the action team, said she has experienced what she feels is a lack of response from DCFS about complaints of neighborhood children being neglected. They want to keep these concerns in the public conscious in order to reform the department so that nothing like what happened to Sema’j happens to other children.
“The actual agency hasn’t accepted ownership saying, ‘Yes. They’re right. We made mistakes,’” said Amy Sanchez, an activist in Joliet and member of the action team.
Robinson, Sanchez, Jones and other team members meet once a month to plan their next steps in both finding ways to support Sema’j’s siblings and continuing to demand answers on what happened to her.
Their next meeting is July 6 at the St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Joliet and is open to the public.