TEMPLE TERRACE — A medical examination confirmed Sunday that a body found in Tampa Bay the day before was that of a missing 9-year-old Tampa girl, and police are treating her death as a homicide.
Many questions remained, including how Felecia Nicole Williams ended up near the Clearwater side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway, 25 miles from where she was last seen in a Temple Terrace apartment. It's also unclear why her disappearance went unreported by a family friend for hours.
Temple Terrace police Chief Ken Albano said he assured the girl's mother, over hugs and prayers this weekend, that he would seek justice for her daughter's killer.
"My primary goal is to ensure that I present to our State Attorney's Office a fantastic case for them to prosecute so that this person stands accountable for this atrocity," Albano said.
The Pinellas County medical examiner conducted the autopsy Sunday, but police would not release the cause of death. There were no visible signs of trauma to her body, said Clearwater Police Department spokesman Rob Shaw.
Albano would not release information about possible suspects or persons of interest, but said at a news conference Sunday afternoon that detectives were following several leads. No immediate family members are considered suspects, he said, and police do not believe there is an ongoing threat to other children.
"The circumstances surrounding this investigation lead us to believe that it is, most definitely, an isolated incident," Albano said.
The girl was last known to have been with family friend Eboni A. Wiley, 23, who had taken Felecia from her E Ida Street home north of Ybor City to the Doral Oaks apartments in Temple Terrace, authorities said. Wiley told police she left Felecia in front of the television while she took a shower, but when she got out the child was gone.
Wiley was arrested Saturday for providing false information to law enforcement. She was released from jail on a $2,000 bond Sunday morning.
Albano would not expand on what false information Wiley provided, but said it was conflicting and initially led officers to treat Felecia as a runaway. He said that it prevented authorities from issuing an Amber Alert that would have broadcast that the child was in danger and sought the public's help in finding her.
"What was available to us, the information that was provided to us, did not rise, at that point, to that level," Albano said. But he said, as other information came out, police realized the situation was urgent.
In refusing to answer several questions, the chief said he was seeking to protect the integrity of the investigation and to avoid tipping off the suspect. He deflected questions about who lived in the apartment where the girl was last seen, how long the child was in the water and other details.
Felecia's mother, Felecia Demerson, said Wiley had picked up Felecia from her home on E Ida Street and took her to Doral Oaks about 4 p.m. Friday. Police believe the girl disappeared sometime between 5:30 and 6 p.m.
Demerson said about five hours passed before Wiley reported Felecia missing to her or police.
"She told me she hoped to find her before calling me," Demerson said.
At about 3:20 p.m. Saturday, boaters near the Courtney Campbell Causeway spotted a body floating near the shore and reported it to Clearwater police.
Albano said he spent an emotional night with the family Saturday and promised that police were going to do everything they could to catch and prosecute Felecia's killer.
"I was there hugging the mom," he said. "We were in there with the family praying, quite frankly."
Demerson said Felecia was an active child who enjoyed riding her bike to the baseball park and feeding the ducks at a nearby pond.
"She was not really a wanderer," Demerson said. "No, she didn't know nobody (at Doral Oaks). She was not familiar with the area."
Demerson said she has not spoken with Wiley, but that Wiley's mother came by her house "trying to convince me her daughter wouldn't hurt no one."
"I did trust her," Demerson said of Wiley. "Four and a half hours went by and she never reported, not only to me but to the authorities, that my child was missing. And those are some unexplained answers that I have not yet to understand."
Felecia, who attended Edison Elementary School, was a helpful, energetic girl who loved food and being outdoors, said her sister, Shakelia Givens, 24, of Tampa.
"Everybody loved her," Givens said. "She's a sweetheart. Words can't explain what I'm feeling right now."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443. News researcher Carolyn Edds and Times reporters Charlie Frago and Jimmy Geurts contributed to this report.