Crime

Gulfport man indicted in Ja-Naya Thompson's capital murder

Ja-Naya Thompson was found dead in July 2014, the day after she disappeared from outside a Gulfport apartment complex.
Ja-Naya Thompson was found dead in July 2014, the day after she disappeared from outside a Gulfport apartment complex.

GULFPORT -- A Harrison County grand jury has indicted Alberto Garcia in the capital murder of 5-year-old Ja-Naya Thompson, found dead in July 17, 2014, after disappearing from outside her family's apartment.

District Attorney Joel Smith said Alberto Garcia was indicted and will be arraigned during the next term of the grand jury. A trial date will be set then. He made the announcement late Monday afternoon.

Julian Gray, identified by Gulfport police as a person of interest, was not indicted, but faces unrelated felony charges, Smith said.

Ja-Naya disappeared July 16, 2014, from outside her parents' residence at The Palms apartments off Klein Road near the elementary school she would have soon attended. A massive search with dozens of volunteers followed. She was found dead the next day in the bathroom of a nearby abandoned mobile home on Whitney Drive.

She was found in a bathroom, hanged by two pairs of socks tied to a bathroom window's metal bar and was wearing only a shirt. She also had been sexually assaulted, according to police testimony at Garcia's preliminary hearing.

An autopsy showed she died of asphyxiation by strangulation.

Police had called in the FBI for help the night she disappeared. That's a move Police Chief Leonard Papania later said helped lead to the FBI's help in analyzing forensic evidence at its crime lab in Quantico, Va.

Community support surged in the search for Ja-Naya and mourners united in their grief. Residents from across South Mississippi later gathered to pay their respects at a visitation, but most were unable to fit inside Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Gulfport for her funeral.

Ja-Naya was remembered as a frilly girl who loved to dress up and wear jewelry. She had completed a Head Start class and was ready to start kindergarten.

Ja-Naya had been playing outside the sliding-glass doors of her family's apartment before she disappeared that night.

The next day, a search dog tracked her scent to an mobile home that Garcia is accused of burglarizing days earlier.

Garcia, 30, was living at The Palms when Ja-Naya disappeared.

He is held with no bond at the Harrison County jail.

Police have said Garcia asked to speak to a detective a few days after he was jailed, and gave information only the killer would know.

Garcia told police Gray came to his apartment the night of July 16, saying he'd had an incident with a girl and needed his help, according to previous court testimony. Gray had remained a person of interest and was arrested on unrelated sex-crime charges, but had not been charged in connection with Ja-Naya's killing.

Gray also lived at The Palms.

Smith said a grand jury found insufficient evidence to indict Gray.

Smith said the police and FBI investigation was thorough but declined to comment further.

  Comments