The last thing Tyra Knox said to her mother was "I love you". Angela Jones didn't know that it would be the last time she would hear from her 7-year-old daughter. Little Tyra hopped on her pink scooter and rode east of her home in Frayser, Tennessee--and vanished.
The child's mother said Tyra played only with her three siblings and several cousins, and stayed near her home. "I know my children. They don't go to other houses," Jones said.
But this time Tyra wasn't with her siblings or cousins. She was alone--which probably made her the target for a sexual predator wondering the streets. Tyra never returned home that day. For three painful days, family and friends held a vigil in her front yard. The entire time, Tyra's body was in the attic of a home across the street. She was left there by Tobias Johnson, a man these people once called neighbor. Johnson no longer lives on Mountain Terrace, his new address is 201 Poplar at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center. Tobias Johnson faces five charges including murder with kidnapping, murder with aggravated child abuse and first degree murder. Johnson has also been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and especially aggravated child abuse. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.
Tyra was a second grader at Brookemead Elementary School. She is remembered as a "beautiful and special little girl", who they were blessed to know, if only for a short time. "Tyra had a good life," her cousin Terry Alexander said. "She had a good day that day, but what happened was you have an evil presence. Evil is always lurking."
There was one thing about Tyra Knox that everybody seemed to know for certain: She loved bubble gum. Her favorite treat showed up in flower arrangements decorated with pieces of Dubble Bubble atop her tiny white casket at Holy Temple Missionary Baptist Church.
Tyrone Knox, Tyra's father, softly joined in as family friend Yolanda Jenkins sang Precious Lord. He swayed back and forth in his seat with his eyes closed, sometimes leaning his arms on his knees, head bowed. Tyra's mother, sat still and quiet, occasionally wiping tears from her children's eyes or from her own.
Kevine Jones, Tyra's cousin, leaned against a parked car, shaking his head in disbelief as pallbearers brought the casket from the church. "She just liked to play," he said. "She liked jumping rope. She laughed a lot and played a lot. And she loved bubble gum. She had a big jar of it."
Tyra's mother said that Memphis police should have issued an Amber Alert Saturday afternoon when she reported her daughter missing. An Amber Alert would have quickly gotten the word out to the public by automatically disseminating information and photos to the news media. "Somebody wasn't doing what they should have," Jones said.
On Sunday, police had said they did issue what they referred to as a "local" Amber Alert Saturday night. But if such an alert was sent, it went nowhere. News outlets did not receive notice of an alert. And an official with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which posts photographs and information about missing children on its Web site, said the TBI was not contacted.
Tyra's family plead for a faster justice system. Rose Rogers, Tyra's grandmother said, "We're really not doing too good. We're really not. But we're trying to hold on, but the grace of God. But we're really not doing too good." It's a frustrating process that has left the family feeling helpless. "We've been praying and crying and that's all. Nothing we can do. 'Cause that won't bring her back. But we want justice served." And to make sure justice is served, the family vows to make it to court whenever they can, with a determined vow from Tyra's grandmother. "I'll be here every time." What she and other family members may not realize is that it takes normally more than a year, and sometimes up to two years for a case like this one to make its way through the Shelby County Criminal justice system. There will likely be dozens more court appearance for Tobias Johnson before a verdict is finally reached.