Tempe PD: Tips have dropped in search for missing baby

January 20th, 2010 by

TEMPE, AZ (abc15)– Tempe detectives say the number of tips they’ve received in search of a missing 8-month-old has dropped.

“The tips are not coming in at the volume they were a week ago,” said Tempe Lt. Mike Horn.

It’s been weeks since baby Gabriel Johnson disappeared while with his mother, Elizabeth, in San Antonio, Texas after leaving Tempe.

Gabriel Johnson was last seen around December 26.

According to her MySpace page, it appears Elizabeth was posting messages just days after her son went missing.

On her MySpace bio, Elizabeth calls herself a “proud parent” and labeled her mood as “adventurous” on December 29, 2009, and appears to have last logged-in on December 30, 2009, the same day she was arrested in Miami.

When asked about the MySpace page and visitor postings, Tempe Police Sgt. Steve Carbajal said, “Detectives are using any means necessary to find information and especially Gabriel.”

According to detectives, 23-year-old Elizabeth Johnson refuses to tell authorities where the baby is or who may have him.

Police also confirm to ABC15 there are two, separate, yet parallel investigations involving the disappearance of the toddler.

According to Horn, a team of detectives is working a missing persons investigation and a homicide investigation at the same time because it is unknown if boy’s mother gave the child away or possibly killed him.

“It is a very real possibility that Elizabeth killed Gabriel,” Horn said. “We are holding out hope that he’s alive, but we have to look at every aspect and investigate everything.”

Detectives are also looking into the possibility that the missing boy may be disguised as a girl by the people who have him.

“There’s one thing we’ve learned in this investigation and that is that anything is possible,” said Carbajal

During a media briefing Monday, Gabriel’s father, Logan McQueary, pleaded for help in the search for his missing son.

“This is about Gabriel and I want to find my son,” McQueary said. “I think about it every single day whether he’s dead or alive.”

Tempe detectives have also released new photos taken of the baby boy while Gabriel was in a San Antonio motel.

Horn said investigators believe all the photographs were taken at a Home Gate Hotel and that the last two photos have a date stamp of December 26.

Horn said the pictures were found on Elizabeth Johnson’s camera when she was arrested in Miami Beach, Florida nearly two weeks after the pair went missing.

McQueary believes Gabriel may have been medicated or drugged based on Gabriel’s appearance in the photos.

“It didn’t look like him (Gabriel), didn’t look like he was happy in those pictures,” said McQueary.

A group of investigators from the FBI, San Antonio Police Department, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and other agencies are actively involved in the case across the country.

McQueary described to reporters the eerie call he said he received from Elizabeth on December 27.

“I asked her where she is and she said that I stuffed him (Gabriel) in a diaper bag, she suffocated him, put him in a diaper bag and put him in the dumpster,” a teary McQueary said. “Then she (Elizabeth) just kept going on, she said you ruined my life this is what you deserve and after that I hung up on her.”

Johnson has been indicted on charges of kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference, and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.

McQueary said he has not visited Elizabeth in jail, but has thought about it.

“I’m not exactly sure what I would say to her, other than I just want her to be honest,” said McQueary.

Well-known TV show America’s Most Wanted has now featured the Gabriel Johnson case, but Horn would not discuss any tips generated by the publicity.

Officials say Johnson fled the state with her son during the week of December 22 in an apparent custody dispute.

Last week detectives searched the home of a Scottsdale couple considered ‘persons of interest’ in the case.

Jack Smith said police took his laptop computer and made a copy of his business computer’s hard drive. He said they also took brochures they had for a foster agency.

Jack Smith said he had “a hard time understanding” the timing of the police activity at his home.

“If they had got here at six in the morning, they could have had coffee with me and spent the day with me,” he said. “But yet, they had to keep my daughter from going to bed last night until midnight. My daughter is always in bed before midnight.”

He said police arrived around 7:30 p.m. to secure the home until the search warrant arrived. Smith said detectives began searching around 11 p.m., finishing around 1 a.m.

The Smiths say they offered to allow police to search the home weeks ago.

“Let me tell you how worried I was,” said Jack Smith. “I fell asleep on the couch.”

The search warrant came just hours after Tammi Smith voluntarily met with Tempe detectives for more than two hours last Thursday.

As she walked out of Tempe Police Department Headquarters, Smith could be heard saying, “That was rough.”

She went on to talk to reporters and quickly admitted that she played a role in manipulating paperwork with Elizabeth Johnson, the mother of baby Gabriel.

“I made a poor decision back when I met Elizabeth,” said Smith. “I helped her (Elizabeth) file her paperwork so she could get her child support and things like that. There was another name put on there and I helped her (Elizabeth) fill out that paperwork, and because of that it obviously doesn’t make me look good.”

The name on the paperwork was apparently Craig Cherry, Tammi Smith’s cousin, which prompted Tempe police detectives to look into the possibility Cherry was Gabriel’s father.

When contacted by phone Friday, Cherry said he does not blame Tammi Smith for helping Johnson use his name on the paperwork, suggesting he was a “potential father” of Gabriel. He said he believed Tammi Smith was trying to protect the baby from his biological father, based on what Johnson told her about him.

“Instead of putting a false name there, I helped her (Elizabeth) put another name,” said Tammi Smith.

With her husband, Jack, waiting nearby, Tammi went on to say she and her husband do not have attorneys, but were considering calling one.

While the Smiths are labeled “persons of interest” in the case by Tempe Police, Elizabeth Johnson is considered the prime suspect in her son’s disappearance and is not cooperating with detectives.

McQueary’s father, Frank McQueary spoke out about the case as well, asking the public for help finding his grandson.

He asked people to keep an eye out for, “that next door neighbor buying stuff for a baby and they didn’t have a baby before. Let somebody know.”

He said the family is confident Gabriel is alive.

In the meantime, police say a reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for the safe return of the Tempe toddler who disappeared with his 23-year-old mother last month.

The reward is being offered through Crime Stoppers in San Antonio, Texas.

Police say Elizabeth left Arizona with Gabriel on December 18. There have been no signs of her child since the day after Christmas.

Police did find Elizabeth in Florida and arrested her for failing to appear at her custodial hearing.

But Gabriel was not with her and detectives said she refused to tell them where he is.

“She was confronted, arrested and interviewed exhaustively about the whereabouts of the child,” said Wayne Jones, with Miami Beach Police.

Gabriel’s father, Logan McQueary, has pleaded to get his son back.

“Please don’t be afraid of getting into trouble, just drop him off at a fire station, help me get my son back,” he said.

McQueary said he had previously received text messages from Gabriel’s mother saying she had killed the child.

“She basically said, ‘there’s no way in Hell you’re ever seeing your son again,’” he said.

But McQueary says he believes Gabriel is still alive, considering he and Johnson were last seen at a park after McQueary received the threatening messages.

Elizabeth’s twin brother, Robert Johnson, said he doesn’t believe his sister’s story, but also said he has to support her.

“She’s stubborn and hard headed. If she doesn’t want Logan to have the baby, she will do everything she can to keep Gabriel from Logan.”

Elizabeth has a history of erratic behavior.

In September of 2009, police arrested her for criminal damage.

According to a police report, she broke several of her apartment’s windows and mirrors, destroyed a television, and a video game system.

The report also said she used a knife to cut McQueary’s clothes.

Then in December of 2009, another police report revealed Elizabeth called police and told them McQueary had taken Gabriel and would no give him back.

Police later accused her of filing a false police report after learning Johnson herself gave Gabriel to Tammi and Jack Smith.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment. You are free to voice your opinion but please keep it clean. Any comments using profanity will be rejected.