The Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - The foster parents who held vigils pleading for the safe return of a missing 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy have been arrested on suspicion of murder, Oakland police said Friday.
Louis Ross and Jennifer Campbell, who is the boy's aunt, were being questioned by investigators in the case of Hasanni Campbell, who disappeared on Aug. 10 after Ross said he briefly left the boy outside his car in the parking lot of an upscale Oakland neighborhood shoe store where Campbell works.
The couple were arrested separately within an hour of each other, police spokesman Jeff Thomason said.
"This is not a missing persons case anymore. This is a homicide investigation," Thomason said late Friday outside police headquarters in downtown Oakland. "We are talking to the people responsible. We do believe Hasanni Campbell is dead."
Thomason would not say what led to the couple's arrests or what led police to conclude that the boy was dead. Thomason said the boy's body has not been found.
A team of investigators searched the couple's home in Fremont on Friday.
The couple, who are engaged, took custody of Hasanni and his 1-year-old sister several months ago because their mother - Jennifer Campbell's sister - had drug problems.
After the boy's disappearance, his foster parents made tearful public pleas for his safe return,including vigils outside the shoe store. Dozens of volunteers handed out fliers with Hasanni's face and held a car wash to add to a $10,000 reward.
There's even a Web site - findhasanni.com - where his foster family tries to explain their role.
"We understand that there is a lot of speculation out there due to misconceptions about our family and the environment Hasanni was living in but to us he is a son, a brother, a family member and so much more and not just a foster child," a message from the site reads.
Both have denied any involvement in his disappearance.
But 10 days before the boy vanished, Ross sent an expletive-filled text message to Campbell, threatening to leave the boy alone on a train station platform, according to a police search warrant affidavit.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month, Ross said he sent the text message in frustration at a time when he planned to break up with Campbell, who is six months pregnant.
The day Hasanni disappeared, Ross said he went to the store's front entrance to ask Campbell to open the back door, but when he returned to the parking lot, the boy was gone.
Police said they were mystified by how Hasanni could have disappeared from a crowded business district with no witnesses, and bloodhounds were unable to detect the scent of the missing boy outside the shoe shop.
Ross told a television station that he failed a lie detector test, but had cooperated with police "100 percent."
Attorney John Burris, who has been advising the couple, said Friday he was surprised by their arrest.
"I'm not aware of any hard physical evidence that ties either one into a missing child," Burris said.
Sherri-Lyn Miller, a volunteer whose company has created T-shirts and fliers during the search for Hasanni, said Friday she's "stunned" by the couple's arrests.
"I feel that we need to look for Hasanni even harder for him now," Miller said. "I'm not going to stop looking for him."