San Diego

‘I Held Him Accountable for Everything': Jahi Turner's Father Reacts to Arrest in Son's Case

The toddler's stepfather is charged with one count of murder and one count of felony child abuse causing death, authorities said.

Tramane Sampson took the most shocking phone call of his life on April 25, 2002, when FBI Investigators told him of his 2-year-old son Jahi Turner’s disappearance.

After Jahi was reported missing from a park that day, last seen with his stepfather, hundreds of volunteers and police officers spent weeks searching for traces of the 30-pound toddler, even combing through 5,000 tons of garbage at the Miramar Landfill. 

Turner's unsolved cold case haunted the community and the boy's family for more than a decade. 

Nearly 14 years later, Sampson received another shocking call, this time from a family member, telling him that an arrest had been made in his son’s high-profile cold case.

“As far as I knew, the case was closed,” Sampson told NBC 7 San Diego in an interview. “So it was definitely shocking to get a phone call.”

Tieray Jones, the boy's stepfather, has been charged with killing 2-year-old Jahi, according to San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. His mother was deployed aboard a Navy ship at the time.

On Tuesday, he waived extradition and will return to San Diego in 60 days to face charges in the toddler's death. Jones is charged with one count of murder and one count of felony child abuse causing death, authorities said. Both carry a 25-years-to-life sentence. It wasn't immediately clear if Jones has an attorney. 

Sampson, who lives just outside Baltimore, Maryland, said he suspected Jones was responsible for the crime from the start.

“I knew from the beginning who was guilty of the whole thing, me personally,” Sampson said. “I actually thought they’d forgotten all about the case, because it had been 14 years.”

On April 25, 2002, Jahi allegedly disappeared from a playground at 28th Street and Cedar Street in San Diego's South Park neighborhood.

According to police, Jones told officers he was with the toddler at the park when he left to get a drink. Jones said he returned 15 minutes later and Jahi was gone.

However, officials were unable to locate Jahi's fingerprints on playground equipment, prompting speculation the child never visited the area, authorities announced Monday.

Sampson says he and Jones were childhood friends, but their relationship immediately took a turn after Jahi’s disappearance.

“Cause he was the last one to see him, the last one to be with him, so I held him accountable for everything,” said Sampson.

Now a father of four, Sampson says Jahi would have been his second oldest child. The mystery of what happened still haunts him.

“Sometimes I just sit home and think, ‘what actually happened? Where could he be at?’" said Sampson.

He now hopes the arrest and pending criminal charges somehow lead to answers, which he believes would bring him more closure.

Though new evidence has been uncovered in the case, authorities have not found Jahi's body or remains, police said.

“To me it would be a little bit more closure to exactly find out what exactly happened,” he said.

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