Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Public safety

Mother of girl found dead in Tampa Bay still looking for answers

TAMPA — Felecia Demerson's dead daughter keeps coming to her in dreams.

She takes her mother by the hand and together they walk through the apartment complex in Temple Terrace where the girl was last seen alive. They always stop before a door. And the daughter turns to her and says, "I'm only going to walk you up … because I don't think you can handle the rest."

The dreams came so regularly, Demerson said she doesn't want to sleep anymore.

"I don't know if that's part of tragedy, if that's part of grieving. I don't know what it is," said Demerson, 40.

It has been nearly three months since 9-year-old Felecia Williams disappeared, her body found May 17 floating near the Courtney Campbell Causeway, many miles from her Tampa home. And Demerson says she knows little more about how she got there than she did then.

Temple Terrace police, who haven't publicly disclosed how the child was killed, won't tell Demerson either. And she remains at a loss to understand the behavior of a family friend, Eboni Wiley, one of the last known people to see Felecia alive, who has given varying accounts of that day.

"To this day," Demerson said, "I don't know how my daughter died."

Speaking at length for the first time since her daughter's disappearance, Demerson said she continues to have faith that police are doing what they can to build a case against the killer.

Authorities have identified Granville Ritchie, 35, as the chief suspect in Felecia's death. Police say he was with Wiley, 24, and the girl the day she disappeared. But they have not charged him in connection with Felecia's murder.

He is being held on unrelated charges of having sex with a minor and two drug charges and has been in custody since May 21. Police continue to withhold details about their case against him in Felecia's death.

"There's nothing new to release at this time," said city spokesman Michael Dunn, "but police are continuing to work on the case diligently."

Since Felecia was murdered, Demerson said she dislikes being alone. She moved from the family's place in Tampa to a home outside the city with her three youngest children — ages 4, 11 and 14.

A fish tank filled with scraps of paper and random household items gathered dust inside the doorway. A group of couches formed a ring in the living room. The sounds of children squealing echoed from the back bedroom.

Demerson stood near the kitchen, where she has stacked numerous photo albums of her dead daughter on a tall wooden dresser.

She cast a sad stare toward the shelves. "It's kind of a like a memorial," she said.

Demerson said Felecia's father, Jerome Williams, 36, is grieving too. Williams is serving time in state prison for burglary of a dwelling. He is not scheduled to be released until March 2024, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Demerson said she feels betrayed by Wiley, the family friend who picked up Felecia the day she disappeared. Attempts to reach Wiley were unsuccessful.

Wiley rented a room in the house next door around January 2014, Demerson said, and soon, she and her daughter Felecia began spending time together.

They liked going to church, to the store, to the park, out to eat. They rode bicycles and took walks. Wiley called Felecia by her nickname, "Sugar Plum."

"My daughter really adored, cherished, worshiped the ground Eboni walked on," Demerson said.

Demerson never conversed with Wiley on a personal level, but she trusted her nonetheless. Wiley didn't seem to have issues or draw bad company. She seemed keen to take Felecia under her wing.

A search warrant affidavit filed in May places Ritchie and Wiley at Doral Oaks, the same Temple Terrace apartment complex from which the girl disappeared. It revealed that Wiley and Ritchie had taken Felecia that day to the apartment — but they gave vastly different accounts to investigators on how she disappeared. Wiley has been charged with providing false information about the case to law enforcement.

The night Felecia disappeared, Demerson was visiting a grieving family in Temple Terrace that lost a family member. One of her daughters called around 9:30 with news: Felecia was missing.

"What do you mean?" Demerson asked.

"Eboni said she was missing," the daughter replied.

Demerson was frantic, and upset. She said Wiley should have called her — and she should have called nearly five hours earlier, when Felecia "actually went missing."

Sitting alone on her couch Tuesday, she is still hoping to learn what happened to her daughter.

Contact Zack Peterson at [email protected] Follow @zpeterson918.

   
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