RIVERVIEW — Thirteen-year-old Janessa Shannon was reported missing from her Riverview home two weeks ago, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Between there and Palmetto, where her mother lives, family and friends have been active on social media, pleading for help from authorities and exposure from the news media.
Their fears were confirmed Saturday when the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office announced that a body found earlier this week in a nature preserve was Janessa’s. A hiker on Wednesday discovered her decomposing body a mile away from the entrance to the Triple Creek Nature Preserve at 13305 Balm Boyette Road.
The Sheriff’s Office is treating her death as a homicide, though they have not disclosed how she died, or any other details about the case. It has also not previously publicized that the teen was missing.
In the days since her disappearance, people identifying themselves as friends and relatives of the girl have complained on social media that law enforcement had not treated Janessa’s disappearance with urgency.
“I need Facebook help,” wrote Eugene Shannon, identifying himself as the boyfriend of Janessa’s mother, Michelle Mosley. “We’ve called everybody and we can’t seem to get the help that we need. So I’m asking for Facebook help.”
The mother also set up an online fundraising campaign seeking money to assist a search. It indicated Janessa lived with her father in Riverview.
Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokesperson Cristal Nunez said the agency initially treated the case as though the child had run away from home because she had habitually done so.
In response to further questions about why law enforcement didn’t draw more attention to the case, she responded in an email with the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert, which notifies the public of a child who has been abducted and may be in peril. They include that the child must be younger than 18 and that there’s clear evidence of an abduction and that a child is endangered.
Children can be deemed endangered if they’re younger than 12, have mental health concerns, including suicidal thoughts, or are in need of medication.
Triple Creek Preserve, where Janessa was found, consists of prairies, wooded areas and wetlands. It joins the nearly 6,000-acre Balm-Boyette Scrub Nature Preserve to the north.
The land is a popular destination for hikers and bikers and includes more than 20 miles of trails maintained by volunteers. It is intersected by three tributaries to the Alafia River: Bell Creek, Boggy Creek and Fish Hawk Creek, according to the county’s website.