The chances of solving the death of Adre'anna Jackson grew slimmer Friday when the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office ruled it cannot determine how the 10-year-old Tillicum girl died.
"It is significant, but it doesn't change what we're doing," said Lakewood police detective Mike Zaro. "With so few remains left, we knew that it would be a long shot for him to provide us with anything."
The ruling also makes it more difficult to prosecute the case if an arrest is made.
"It's going to be a hindrance," said chief criminal deputy prosecutor Jerry Costello. "It would all depend on whether you have enough circumstantial evidence to convince a jury that a homicide happened."
Investigators continue to track down tips and await results from the tests being done on evidence collected from Adre'anna's house and the lot in the Woodbrook area where her body was found April 4, four months after she disappeared.
Asked to comment on the medical examiner's ruling, Adre'anna's mother, Yvette Gervais, said: "I was just really disappointed that (people) knew of the body" before it was found - "I think whoever knew about this should be charged with obstruction of the law."
A transient who frequented the Woodbrook lot has said he spotted the remains in March and told people about his discovery, but no one called police. Investigators have said he is not a suspect.
Adre'anna disappeared the morning of Dec. 2. Her parents have told police they last saw her about 7:45 a.m. as she headed toward Tillicum Elementary School to see whether there were classes despite overnight snow.
The fourth-grader didn't make it to the school, and vanished. Two boys found her remains in a blackberry-choked lot about two miles and on the other side of Interstate 5 from Adre'anna's home.
After more than seven weeks of study, the Medical Examiner's Office said Adre'anna's death certificate will read: "Skeletal remains: Insufficient information to determine cause of death." The manner of her death, whether accidental, natural or homicide, also was undetermined.
In making the ruling, Dr. John Howard reviewed a report from a forensic anthropologist, which he received earlier this week. The report was not made public.
State and federal forensics experts continue to analyze hundreds of items taken from the girl's home near Portland Avenue and Wadsworth Street Southwest and the vacant lot where she was found.
Dozens of technicians spent 10 days on their hands and knees, collecting evidence from the lot, including cigarette butts, empty soda cans and other trash.
The Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory is analyzing some of that evidence, but most of it has been turned over to FBI forensics technicians, said Kevin Jones, manager of the Tacoma lab.
The FBI has access to national databases that might help detectives match something found at the lot or the home with a person whose DNA was collected by a law enforcement agency elsewhere in the country, Jones said.
Lakewood Police Chief Larry Saunders sought the bureau's assistance not long after Adre'anna went missing.
"We have been helping them forensically and investigatively from the outset," said Robbie Burroughs, spokeswoman for the FBI's Seattle office. "We are doing whatever they are asking us to do to assist them."
She referred other questions to Lakewood police, who continue to work on the case.
"We're still exploring any lead that comes in and any lead that's developed," said police detective Zaro. "There can be somebody with bits and pieces of information that leads us to evidence that points to a suspect."
Prosecutor Costello said that to file charges of murder or manslaughter, prosecutors would need proof that a homicide occurred. Circumstantial evidence and witness testimony would be key.
"It remains possible because the M.E.'s opinion, while powerful evidence, is not the only evidence in a case," Costello said, referring to the medical examiner. "It could be proven with circumstantial evidence. It all depends on how it develops and the strength of the evidence."
David Anderson, a friend of Adre'anna who is the president of the Tillicum-Woodbrook Neighborhood Association, said it's unconscionable to have someone escape responsibility in Adre'anna's death.
"We need to find out why she died and who's responsible," he said. "Somehow, some way, someone knows and is going to tell. It's a matter of time."
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268
Staff writers Adam Lynn and Paul Sand contributed to this report.
Reward for information
The Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers, the FBI and anonymous donors are offering up to $60,000 for information leading to arrests, charges filed and convictions of anyone involved in the death of Adre'anna Jackson. Callers remain anonymous. Reach Crime Stoppers at 253-591-5959.