Five years after Jaliek Rainwalker disappeared, police are classifying the troubled boy’s case as a “probable child homicide.”
Authorities in Washington County and people close to the boy for years believed he was a runaway and was still alive somewhere, but every single lead the police department got has been fruitless.
All of the supposed sightings of Rainwalker ended up being other children who resembled him, Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell said Thursday.
“There’s no doubts in my mind” that Rainwalker is dead, he said.
Rainwalker disappeared Nov. 1, 2007, at age 12. He was last seen in public at the Red Robin restaurant in Latham. His adoptive father, Stephen Kerr, said the two drove to an apartment on Hill Street in Greenwich, where they spent the night after Kerr had picked Rainwalker up that day from a halfway house in Altamont.
Rainwalker was sent there because he threatened another child.
Kerr told police that when he awoke in the morning, Rainwalker was gone from the apartment and had left a note saying he was sorry for the trouble he had caused his adoptive parents.
Kerr was considered a person of interest in the case but never arrested. Kerr and his wife, Jocelyn McDonald, moved to Vermont a few months after Rainwalker disappeared and did not cooperate further with police.
If Rainwalker were still alive, he would have shown up on someone’s radar rather than transforming into a child who didn’t attract attention, Bell said.
“He’s been a handful,” the chief said, noting that Rainwalker was born addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine and had behavioral problems as a result. The boy bounced around through the foster system before Kerr and McDonald adopted him.
Most runaways run out of money and resurface soon after disappearing, Bell said.
Though the case is considered a homicide, police don’t have any leads on who may have killed Rainwalker or where or how.
Still, the investigation remains active and has never been a “cold case,” the chief said in a news release.
It may not seem like police have discovered much, but Bell said much progress has been made in the case. Several people have been “thoroughly investigated” and cleared as suspects, and police recovered the yellow fleece pullover the boy was believed to be wearing when he disappeared.
“The investigators remain confident that the case will be successfully resolved and they remain dedicated to identifying the persons responsible for Jaliek’s disappearance and bringing them to justice,” police said in a statement.
The police department planned to announce the change in designation on the actual five-year anniversary of Rainwalker’s disappearance last month but postponed when Superstorm Sandy came roaring up the East Coast.
“We felt that this was a proper time to come out,” Bell said.
Rainwalker’s disappearance led several of the families that had cared for him to start a “Find Jaliek Task Force” with a website publicizing the timeline of his case and numerous pictures of him. They also hired psychics to try to locate him, held candlelight vigils and conducted their own searches.
Authorities also searched the Greenwich area and the nearby Battenkill River, though they also believed at the time that Rainwalker might have gone to Albany or the New York City area.
Besides the local police, several other agencies have been involved throughout the investigation: New York State Police, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York State Forest Rangers.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is reviewing the investigation and recommending some actions to the police.
Police continue to ask that the public help by reporting any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, to 692-9332.