Jadianna Larsen – whose burned body was found off a country road in Glenn County on Thursday – had a history of truancy from kindergarten and didn’t show up for school at all last week, school officials said Monday.
The 6-year-old girl was one of a handful of children living at Martin Luther King Jr. Village, a complex of 80 units for disabled and homeless adults recovering from substance abuse and mental problems. Family members say her mother, longtime resident Tanecia Clark, checked herself into a medical facility about a week ago for psychological problems and entrusted her boyfriend, Juan Rivera, to care for Jadianna.
Rivera, 25, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of killing Jadianna and booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail. Sacramento Superior Court records show Rivera has a criminal history dating to 2010, when he pleaded no contest and was convicted of felony methamphetamine possession with intent to sell and felony burglary. He was sentenced to three years of supervised probation.
Rivera reported Jadianna missing Thursday night, hours after Glenn County authorities discovered her body inside a suitcase placed in the burning field. Rivera told authorities that he suffers from epilepsy and blacked out for more than nine hours that day at Martin Luther King Jr. Village. When he finally awoke, he said, Jadianna was gone.
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A fuller picture began to emerge Monday of Jadianna’s life inside the gated housing complex on 47th Avenue in south Sacramento. According to one woman who knew the family, she spent hours walking around the 5-acre property unsupervised.
Kelly Richards says her sister, Tracy Richards, 52, died of a heroin overdose at the complex on April 26. Before Tracy’s death, Richards said, Jadianna often hung out in her sister’s apartment, where the woman was confined to a hospital bed. The Sacramento County coroner’s website confirms Tracy Richards’ death, but does not list a cause.
“I’d go to my sister at 11 or 12 (in the morning) and I’d see Jade,” Richards said. “Tracy had a little futon made up for her, and I remember seeing crayons and coloring books. Jade was left to her own devices.”
Jadianna was enrolled at Bowling Green Charter McCoy elementary in south Sacramento, where her mother volunteered, family members said. Throughout the school year, Bowling Green staff and Sacramento City Unified School District personnel “went above and beyond in attempts to support Jadianna’s family and remove the barriers that kept Jadianna from attending school regularly,” district spokesman Gabe Ross said.
“The interventions included phone calls home, letters, several family meetings and a visit to Jadianna’s home,” he said.
Jadianna missed school all last week, and could have been killed days before her body was discovered in a brush fire in Glenn County on Thursday, Sacramento County sheriff’s Sgt. Lisa Bowman said.
“There’s a possibility she was killed here earlier in the week and transported there,” said Bowman, a department spokeswoman.
Glenn County Sheriff Richard Warren said it would take at least two to three weeks before authorities determine the cause of death. Microscopic and toxicology tests on the body are being conducted at Central Valley Toxicology in Clovis.
Although Jadianna’s remains were badly burned, the sheriff said he was “relatively optimistic” that investigators will be able to say how she died. “At this point, we can’t say if she died of the fire or before the fire,” Warren said.
The fire off a rural county road was first reported by area farmworkers Thursday about 10:22 a.m., and volunteer firefighters responded within minutes, according to Warren. He said the California Department of Justice has removed physical evidence from the site. Speaking in generalities, the sheriff said physical evidence from a fire could include footprints, tire marks and flammable liquid.
At Bowling Green Charter on Monday, Principal Sue Gibson said when Jadianna made it to school, she was a star.
“She was a bright, happy child – learning came easily to to her,” Gibson said. “She saw the best in everything, was always glad to be around other kids and was easy to get along with.”
Jadianna, who used to have long hair, recently had come to school with a new bobbed haircut. “When I told her I liked it, she made a face at me – I guess she didn’t,” Gibson said.
A crisis team of two Police Department chaplains and four counselors from the school district came to Bowling Green to help the 488 students.
Martin Luther King Jr. Village, where Jadianna lived with her mother, sits about a mile from Bowling Green Elementary. Owned and operated by Mercy Housing California, the complex caters primarily to homeless people and those with drug, alcohol or mental health problems.
Kelly Richards said she believes the management does too little to prevent residents from going back to alcohol or drugs. She said she wonders how her sister obtained drugs when she had been paralyzed from the waist down about six months ago from an earlier heroin overdose.
Rick Sprague, a Mercy spokesman, defended the complex, saying the management contracts with two outside providers to offer rehabilitation programs for residents. Mercy, he said, acts exclusively as a landlord. Residents of the village pay $0 to $425 a month for studio units that are mostly subsidized by the federal government.
“Everyone is just heartbroken about this,” Sprague said.
Sprague confirmed that Rivera was not an official resident at the village and that he lived there as a guest of his mother, Lisa Burton, and Tanecia Clark. Guests are permitted to stay for three to seven days at a time, according to the management. Sprague said Rivera did not violate the guest policy, noting that all guests must pass through the front office, which is staffed around the clock, to enter the property.
Martin Luther King Jr. Village is part of a growing, widely embraced “housing first” approach to dealing with homelessness. Advocates of the strategy believe that homeless people need stable living environments before they can realistically tackle their larger problems, such as mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.
MLK Village and similar housing programs do not require homeless people to be clean and sober to retain housing, although they strongly encourage them to enroll in treatment programs.
Sacramento Self Help Housing works regularly with people who are seeking to become residents of MLK Village, offering emergency shelter while they are being screened for eligibility, said executive director John Foley.
“Whenever you are taking people in from off of the streets, you’re going to have challenges,” Foley said. “You’re going to have people who are tempted to let a friend come in for dinner or to spend a few nights or otherwise do things that create anxiety and problems for the property manager.”
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has received about 20 calls for service to the complex over the past two years. The service calls included disturbances and trespassing, according to Bowman.
Overall, Foley said, “I think that (MLK Village) has been well-maintained and well-managed. They’ve evicted people when they’ve needed to, and they’ve also had people who have had a lot of success.”
Bee staff writer Phillip Reese contributed to this report.