San Diego Union-Tribune


May 2, 2002

Jahi has had a lot of bounces in life, say neighbors, kin

By Joe Cantlupe 

FREDERICK, Md. The last time his grandmother was with him,
Jahi Turner wanted to play catch. Over and over. In their small
yard, the toddler kept tossing a big plastic ball with his
grandmother, ignoring pleas to go inside.

"Ball" was Jahi's favorite word, and tossing one back and forth
was his favorite thing to do.

In many ways, Jahi's life has had as many bounces as that ball in
his grandmother's yard.

Jahi's biological father has had little contact with him, having
spent much of his son's life in jail. Jahi's stepfather who
authorities say has fathered as many as six children has been
questioned in connection with an unsolved Maryland homicide,
and yesterday was extensively questioned by San Diego
homicide detectives for the first time in connection with the
toddler's disappearance.

Neighbors say Jahi's mother took the toddler with her to San
Diego less than two weeks ago because of her concerns about
drug dealing in the neighborhood.

Frederick is Maryland's second-largest city, 45 minutes
northwest of Washington, D.C. Friends and family say Jahi lived
in a low-income neighborhood, surrounded by love and
affection. Whiffle balls and Fisher-Price toys are everywhere.
Family photos cover the walls of Jahi's relatives' homes.

"I think he's had a good life here," said his paternal grandmother,
Dina Naylor.

But it is also home to an abundance of despair: broken
relationships, high unemployment, single-parent households,
plenty of drug dealing and bursts of violence, according to
neighbors and court records.

Jahi's mother, Tameka Jones, 18, learned she was pregnant when
she was barely 16. When she and her mother broke the news to
the boy's father, Tramane Sampson, then 22, Jones and Sampson
weren't even dating, he said.

Sampson wasn't the only one who was surprised.

"I didn't know they were seeing each other," Naylor said.

Jahi was born Feb. 10, 2000. Tramane Sampson and Tameka
Jones didn't see much of each other after that, Sampson and
others said. Tameka's mom, Penny Turner, spent most of the
time taking care of the baby while Tameka continued her
education, graduating with honors from high school, neighbors
said. But other relatives also took turns caring for the boy.

Jahi's father was released recently from jail. He was in custody
on probation violations stemming from an earlier jail term
related to a domestic dispute, court records show.

"I didn't see him much, so he would cry around me," Sampson
said of his son.

In time, Tameka was dating Tieray Jones.

Tieray Jones graduated from a vocational school. He held odd
jobs and, neighbors say, had numerous girlfriends. Police say
Jones, 23, is the father of at least six children with six women.

Over the past few years, several of Jones' ex-girlfriends have
taken him to court over various demands, including child
support and custody, according to records filed in Frederick
County Circuit Court. One former girlfriend, who declined to be
identified, said Jones didn't seem to pay attention to their child.

Child-support and custody battles weren't the only issues that
brought Tieray Jones to the attention of law enforcement.

Jahi was 6 months old when John Earl Hill known among locals
as "Poochie" was shot to death in August 2000, a quarter-mile
from where Jahi was staying with his maternal grandmother.
Police officials questioned dozens of local residents, including
Tieray Jones, in connection with the death.

Some residents say shots were fired after an argument over a
girl. No one has been arrested.

Last summer, Tieray Jones was charged with burglary in
connection with thefts in the neighborhood. Court records show
he repeatedly failed to report to social-services officers as part
of an agreement, and was arrested twice on suspicion of
possessing marijuana.

Last year, Tameka Jones joined the Navy and left with Tieray to
go to San Diego. She is stationed aboard the amphibious ship

"I was proud of Tameka," Naylor said. "She wasn't like some of the
other girls around here, who would get pregnant and think they
are big shots and then forget about their education. No, she
stayed in school and tried to make this career in the Navy."

Jahi stayed behind with Tameka's mother. Two days after
Christmas last year, Tameka and Tieray were back in Maryland
and were quietly married at the Frederick County courthouse,
records show.

A few weeks ago, authorities dropped the burglary charges
against him, citing conflicting statements from witnesses.

In April, Tameka was alerted by Maryland child protection
officials about increasing drug use in Jahi's neighborhood,
residents said. Naylor said Tameka's concern prompted her to
fly back home April 19 to get Jahi and bring him with her to San

Six days later, he was reported missing.