Detective Sgt. Sammy Jewell was at home the night of July 16, 2014, when his supervisor called and sent him to The Palms apartment complex. Five-year-old Ja’Naya Thompson had disappeared from just outside her family’s home.
“We started conducting interviews, as we normally would, just working the process,” Jewel said.
“Then the realization came. It began as soon as we got there. We knew it was a serious issue. As time progressed, we got the worst news.”
The girl with an infectious smile was found dead the next day at a vacant mobile home nearby. In January, 2 1/2 years later, her killer received the death penalty for capital murder.
The District Attorney’s Office awarded Jewell the Crime Victim Law Enforcement Award on Friday for his efforts to bring justice.
“Sgt. Jewell put in untold hours of follow-up work,” Assistant District Attorney Crosby Parker said, “and was side by side with us as prosecutors all the way until the end.
“He did this undoubtedly while probably feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders as he sought justice for Ja’Naya and our entire Gulf Coast.”
Jewell said he did feel that weight, but received a lot of help from division detectives, the FBI and area law enforcement agencies.
“I knew ultimately we would prevail, but it would take a lot of hard work. I knew we would find justice. I knew justice would prevail.”
Parker said the faith, love and patience shown by Ja’Naya’s family inspired police and prosecutors.
Jewell accepted the award during the annual National Crime Victims Rights Week Candlelight Ceremony sponsored by the DA’s Office.
Radio personality Rip Daniels, owner of JZ 94.5, WJZD-FM, received this year’s Crime Victim Community Service Award during ceremonies held at First Baptist Church of Gulfport. He was honored for creating a program to raise crime awareness among middle school students.
Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam told the gathering it’s important to celebrate the memory of lives lost and the good of those who rally around people who are hurting.
Said Beam: “I’m old enough to know that good comes from evil. That right overcomes wrong. That love wins out over hatred every time.”
Police Chief Leonard Papania lit a candle in remembrance of Ja’Naya and the region’s other homicide victims. Area law enforcement officers also lit candles, as did the mothers of homicide victims Keon Bryant and Shabree Page.
“This always gives me strength,” said Latrice Monroe, whose brother, Xavier Monroe was shot to death in 2013.