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Local News

Will County judge scrutinizes DCFS over conditions at home where Sema'j Crosby found dead

JOLIET – A Will County judge says child care workers missed obvious signs of trouble at a filthy, bedbug- and roach-infested house in Joliet Township where the body of a 1-year-old girl was later discovered.

Will County Circuit Judge Paula Gomora demanded Tuesday to know why Department of Children and Family Services caseworkers didn't act when they visited the trash-strewn home in the Preston Heights area, where Sema'j Crosby and her three older brothers lived with their mother and a group of squatters. Gomora spoke during a hearing to determine where to place the girl's brothers.

DCFS spokeswoman Veronica Resa declined to comment Wednesday to The Associated Press regarding Gomora's statements.

Sema'j disappeared just hours after a DCFS inspection of the Louis Road house April 25. Her body was found inside the residence after investigators and volunteers spent a day-and-a-half searching through the neighborhood. Authorities have not said how Sema'j died. The Will County Coroner's Office expects additional forensic testing will take four to five weeks.

On Wednesday, DCFS Director George Shelton told an Illinois Senate committee that investigators don't remove children from homes just because the residences are dirty. Shelton promised to release records if his agency's investigation shows the girl died at the hands of a caregiver.

Case managers from Children's Home + Aid had been offering resources to the family since September. Their program includes weekly visits and coordinating with DCFS, with the goal of keeping families intact.

Children's Home + Aid spokesman Jason Strokosch would not comment specifically on the Crosby case, but said, "while the [cleanliness] of the home can play a role our primary concern is keeping children safe. We would notify DCFS if we found [a safety] issue."

Strokosch noted Children's Home + Aid would not request a DCFS investigation on a family if one was already open.

Police described the home's conditions as "deplorable." Reports from the Will County Land Use Department show a history of visible trash complaints at the residence dating back to 2012. JJB Rentals of Minooka recorded a deed on the property in 2013, according to land use records. Will County court files show Sema'j's mother did not move in until last year.

The morning after Sema'j's body was found, a Will County sheriff's detective contacted the Land Use Department to inspect the property, records show.

"The bedrooms had a large amount of clothing, garbage bags, discarded food containers [and] empty bottles in the middle of the floor and throughout the room," the inspector noted. "The entire structure appeared unsanitary because of the heavily solid carpets, walls, garbage and a serious degree of filth."

The house was deemed unfit for occupancy.

On Monday, a land use inspector met with the landlord. While a non-working stove violation was removed from the list, fire damage will also have to be addressed before the unit can be occupied. East Joliet Fire Chief Robert Scholtes said candles left by mourners damaged the front of the house Saturday.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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