Almost a week after the body of 8-year-old Hiawayi Robinson was found Sept. 18 near a vacant warehouse in Prichard, authorities have not officially released any new information regarding the girl’s death.
However, Prichard officials say they are adamantly searching for the person or persons responsible for the murder of Robinson. As they continue to receive leads, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the Prichard Police Department say they will “aggressively” pursue each lead until the case is resolved.
“Hundreds of hours of manpower have been spent by law enforcement tirelessly pursuing every lead regarding the disappearance and now murder of this innocent child,” Prichard spokeswoman Melanie Baldwin said in a Sept. 21 news release. “This investigation will not end until the individual(s) responsible for Hiawayi’s death are brought to justice.”
During an unrelated press conference Sept. 22, District Attorney Ashley Rich declined to confirm suffocation as the cause of death.
“I can’t comment on that,” she said. “This is very much an ongoing investigation and there are a lot of rumors and there’s a lot of speculation going on in this community about that, but it would not be proper, it would not be wise or in the best interest of this investigation for us to release anything regarding cause of death at this time.”
While Rich said she could not disclose a “timetable” on when information may be released, she said that authorities are working to make sure the case is handled as quickly as possible.
“I can tell the community that this is an incredibly coordinated effort between many agencies,” she said. “I have not seen this coordinated of an effort between this many agencies in quite some time and I am very confident that the investigation is being handled very, very effectively…”
According to the Prichard Police Department, Robinson was last seen around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16 at St. Stephens Woods Apartments, with records showing the family called 911 at 9:58 p.m.
For two days, local, state and federal law enforcement, volunteers and numerous other search teams joined forces in hope of safely locating the missing child.
During a press conference Sept. 18, just hours before authorities discovered Robinson’s body, FBI officials said they believed she may have been taken across state lines, a statement officials declined to elaborate on after Robinson’s body was found.
During the search, the FBI called in numerous resources to supplement local and state law enforcement including its behavioral analysis unit, child abduction and evidence response teams and other critical resources, according to Christopher Hacker, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Mobile.
“A lot of agents and police officers involved in this are parents, and we’re looking for her like she’s our very own daughter,” he said before the final search effort was executed around 10 a.m. Sept. 18.
However, at approximately noon the same day, the search for Robinson ended when “regrettably” her body was recovered near Turner and Rebel roads, Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam said.
“The thing that we fear most has come upon us,” Ephriam said, who added the case had been classified as a homicide.
Just before Robinson’s body was a found, the FBI said they were searching for a person of interest but indicated it did not mean the person had been named responsible for the girl’s disappearance. Shortly after, the FBI in conjunction with the Prichard PD released surveillance photos of the female person of interest from inside the Best Future convenience store at 3445 St. Stephens Road, where Robinson was reportedly last seen alive.
At 1 p.m. Sept. 18, the female voluntarily arrived at Mobile Police Headquarters, MPD spokeswoman Ashley Rains said.
MPD then notified Prichard PD, who advised MPD to instruct the woman to drive to Prichard Police Headquarters, according to Rains.
Since then, the woman has been interviewed and Ephriam said she is not a suspect in the case but did offer valuable information.
As of Tuesday afternoon no new leads had been made public, but some individuals and businesses have offered reward money for reporting useful knowledge that may lead to an arrest in the case.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced Sept. 19 that he is offering a $5,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person involved in the murder of Robinson, releasing the following statement:
“Alabama’s state law enforcement agencies have been actively assisting the Prichard Police Department in the investigation into the death of Hiawayi Robinson. I directed the Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Spencer Collier, to go to Prichard and offer any resources needed. As soon as Hiawayi was reported missing, we sent 10 State Bureau of Investigation agents to Prichard, and our Trooper Aviation Unit also assisted in helping to find Hiawayi. Those agents will remain in Prichard until a suspect has been arrested. Furthermore, I’ve directed an increased presence of state troopers in Prichard until the person who committed this terrible act has been found.”
With other organizations contributing, rewards now total $22,000.
Another controversial topic arose during the case as many questioned why an Amber Alert was not issued when Robinson was reported missing, but Ephriam said the Department of Justice regulations under the Amber Alert program state sufficient information related to the abductor or vehicles used in the abduction must be present.
“In the case of Hiawayi we did not have that information, “ he said. “We did perform the best management practice that was called upon.”
A missing persons bulletin was issued, which allowed all members of law enforcement to establish the necessary levels of protocol in the context as if an Amber Alert had been called, he said.
Sen. Vivian Davis Figures has since proposed passing legislation to have a “Hiawayi Alert,” which she hopes would make sending out mass alerts easier and ultimately result in searches being executing more quickly.
Neither local law enforcement nor FBI officials made comments during the press conference held after Robinson’s body was found.
“Due to the nature of it being an active and fluid investigation, we will not provide any further information at this time or take questions in regards to the investigation itself,” Ephriam said. “There have been rumors, inaccurate information that has only served to detract our overall purpose of bringing complete and swift justice on behalf of Hiawayi Robinson and her family and this city.”
Ephriam said authorities will update the public as necessary, but their first priority was working with Robinson’s family to meet their needs.
“This represents the absolute worst of any form of crime,” he said.
Visitation for Robinson will be held from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26 at Mount Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Prichard, according to organizers at Christian Benevolent Funeral Home.
If you know anything about the disappearance or murder of Hiawayi Robinson, please call 1-800-CALLFBI.
Jason Johnson contributed to this report.