A whacked out Arizona woman either kidnapped or gave away her child sometime in late December, police aren’t sure which it is.
More than three weeks after an Arizona baby disappeared in Texas, investigators publicly sought new leads Monday because his mom wasn’t talking.
Their main questions: Did Elizabeth Johnson kill her 8-month-old son, Gabriel? Why isn’t she cooperating with investigators? How did the unemployed Johnson get $1,200 to travel across the country, buy food and stay in hotels? And just how much does a Scottsdale couple who wanted to adopt the child know?
Gabriel was last seen Dec. 26 in San Antonio. Johnson, 23, drove there from her home in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, stayed about a week, then took a bus to Florida without Gabriel. She was arrested Dec. 30 in Miami Beach and returned to Arizona to face kidnapping and child abuse charges.
“Gabriel was in San Antonio. He was there, he was alive, he was well,” Cmdr. Kim Hale, who is leading Tempe police’s investigation, said Monday. “Elizabeth Johnson left San Antonio without him, that we can confirm. So what happened in San Antonio? Right now, Elizabeth Johnson is the only one who can answer that.”
Not only is Johnson not cooperating, but she has given two very different stories about what happened to Gabriel, investigators said.
“I killed him,” she told Logan McQueary, her ex-boyfriend and the baby’s father, in a text message.
In a conversation not long afterward, McQueary told police that Johnson said she put Gabriel’s body in a diaper bag and threw it in a trash bin.
But in a phone interview with Phoenix television station KPHO, Johnson said she gave Gabriel to a couple she didn’t know at a San Antonio park and that she only said she killed the boy to get back at McQueary.
Hale said police have indications that Gabriel is alive.
“But at the same time, we can’t negate the fact that she said she killed him. She was very specific about that,” Hale said of Johnson, jailed on $1.1 million bond.
Another confusing aspect of the case is a Scottsdale couple labeled “persons of interest.”
Jack and Tammi Smith at first withheld some information from police but have been cooperative in general, Hale said. He said results from a lie-detector test the couple took Friday were inconclusive.
Johnson gave the Smiths temporary guardianship over Gabriel for about 10 days last month before she picked him up and left Arizona.
Johnson met Tammi Smith, 35, in June during a layover at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Smith told police she struck up a conversation with Johnson at the airport after noticing Johnson seemed stressed out and needed help with the baby. Smith held Gabriel in the airport and during the flight to Phoenix while Johnson vented about being a single mother, according to a Tempe police report.
“Johnson said she told Smith sometimes she felt that adoption would be the best thing for Gabriel, and Smith told her that she would be willing to adopt Gabriel,” according to the police report.
Jack Smith, 56, told The Associated Press on Monday that he and his wife adopted their 4-year-old daughter from a family member and had been wanting to give her a sibling.
“When Tammi got home she said, ‘I met a girl in the airport and she has this beautiful little baby and she has troubles, and I held him and loved him,’ ” Smith said. “Tammi was very excited about it.”
He said it makes sense that he and his wife are persons of interest in the case because they were the last ones to see Gabriel before Johnson left the state.
“Whatever they need to do to create whatever media waves to get and keep his face out there, I’m fine with,” he said. “I’m very secure. We had nothing to do with this. We’re doing everything we can every single day to keep up the fight, to keep this boy’s face out there on the front burner instead of second or third burner.”
McQueary, Gabriel’s father and Johnson’s ex-boyfriend, declined to comment.
His father, Frank McQueary, told AP that he and his son long have believed that Johnson has undiagnosed bipolar disorder but that she always refused to seek help.
This woman is just sick. We are really hoping that he — and so many other children who are missing — will be found safe and sound.