A Milwaukee community is grieving the loss of a young mother and her daughter, a loss family members believe could have been prevented.
Relatives say local police allowed red tape to prevent them from issuing an Amber Alert, even after sharing that the child might have been in danger.
Khalilah Brister and her 7-year-old daughter, Tyrielle Jefferson, were found dead on Dec. 8, in a vehicle submerged in Cream City’s Northridge Lake.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office listed the 25-year-old’s death as “died by suicide,” and the cause of death listed for her daughter is homicide, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
An investigation into the details surrounding the deaths is underway, but Jackie Brister, Khalilah’s mother, and Tyrielle’s grandmother says she wants an investigation also into why the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond in real time to tips about her daughter’s whereabouts — especially after she told them something didn’t seem right with her, according to WISN.
Days after the two were found, a city politician, Milwaukee County executive David Crowley, said, “We have two individuals that were pulled out of a pond, out of a lake. The fact that somebody died, you always say the ball was dropped because there’s ways we should be preventing any community violence we’re seeing here in Milwaukee.”
Crowley and Milwaukee mayor Cavalier Johnson both called for an investigation into the tragedy on Dec. 13 to see where the breakdown happened.
The first call was made to police on Dec. 7, after Brister noticed Khalilah had taken her wallet and car without permission.
“I told them she wasn’t right; you know? That had never happened before. I told them that, and their concern was, ‘We’ll find your car,’ ” Brister recounted.
Later in the day, Tyrielle’s paternal grandmother contacted Brister and shared news of the child being in danger.
“The other grandmother called me and said, ‘Jackie, there’s a lady on my phone. She was down by Bradford Beach. She said Tyrielle came running up to her, said her mother was trying to kill her,’ ” Brister told the news outlet.
According to Brister, the other grandmother said when her contact went back to Khaliah and tried to talk to her, the mom told her she was “tired” and “wanted to go into the water.”
Brister reportedly communicated the cryptic message to a 911 dispatcher around 4:30 p.m.; it was clear to her that her daughter sounded suicidal.
“The police officer said, ‘Ma’am were only dealing with the aspect of your car. That’s something the sheriff’s department has to handle because it happened in the park system,’ ” Brister said.
The 911 call was released, showing Brister’s first call was transferred from Milwaukee police to the county’s Office of Emergency Management. OEM contacted deputies.
“Can you start heading down to the Lincoln Memorial Drive area? Caller reporting that her daughter is threatening to drive into the lake,” said a dispatcher.
The operator continued, “The little girl was crying, freaking out, and said her mom told her to come find somebody to call her grandma because she was going to jump in the water.”
However, no one ever called her back.
Though Brister did not receive a call, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were dispatched to search Bradford Beach to search for the mother and daughter.
“Got a call from a witness stating that her daughter was going through some things,” said a dispatcher, “and she was going to try and drive into the lake, but she ended up leaving and is traveling to Brown Deer and Green Bay area.”
The call was canceled, but despite that a nearby deputy still continued searching the lake area.
Crowley explained their process in a statement, saying, “Once a disposition is provided, it is standard best practice for dispatch to advise additional, voluntary squads that they can return to or remain in service. This does not serve as a cancellation of the call in its entirety. Responding law enforcement personnel dictate all investigative actions and follow-up regarding a call for service,” he continued. “OEM’s 911 Communications Division dispatchers at the call center cannot, and do not, supersede the judgment of the investigating deputy on the scene.”
Still, Brister contends she didn’t feel there was any urgency by law enforcement to find her daughter and grandchild.
“I don’t think the sheriff took it seriously when we called Wednesday night and was talking about her going into the water. Why wasn’t an Amber Alert issued then?” Brister said.
Brister continued to reach out to law enforcement the following morning, however, she could not reach a reliable contact and received no follow-up until later in the afternoon.
“I didn’t hear nothing else until the detectives came here,” Brister said.
The matriarch recalled, “He said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and when he said, ‘I’m sorry,’ I knew what was coming next. I had to look at the pictures of them in the car.”
Fox 6 News reports someone saw something in the water. Later it would be revealed the “something” was a car and it had two bodies inside.
“They didn’t do they job …They dropped the ball. I’m very angry because now I don’t have my daughter. I don’t get to see my granddaughter grow up.”
She contends if an Amber Alert was issued by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and Office of Emergency Management her grandchild would be alive now.
One reason why an Amber Alert was not issued is that Khalilah was the legal custodial parent of Tyrielle. The alerts, according to Wisconsin’s Amber Alert website, are “emergency child abduction” calls, and the child was not reported kidnapped.
Also, one requirement is that the “initiating agency must have enough descriptive information about the child, the suspect, and/or the suspect vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help locate the child.”
The mayor is not shutting the door on Brister’s point about the Amber Alert and whether enough information was given for the emergency agencies to have issued one.
“We will continue to look into the issue as to why that was not delivered,” Johnson said.
The family is mourning but speaks of possible signs that they may have missed also.
“We could’ve been involved beforehand so, you know, maybe next time, somebody’s family ain’t gotta go through this kinda stuff, man, and they can pay attention to when people say they need help,” said Donnell Boose, Tyrielle’s great uncle.
While Crowley admits something went wrong, the executive also says it is too early to place blame or to tell if this tragedy could have been prevented. Crowley said, “My thoughts and prayers are with this family, but we should allow this investigation to play out, so we have a better understanding of what exactly happened.”
As the holidays roll in, the family is not decorating trees and finishing up last-minute Christmas or Kwanzaa shopping. Instead, they hosted a vigil balloon release at the Northridge Lake in Khaliah and young Tyrielle’s honor.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. These services are free and confidential.