CAMBRIDGE -- Police announced Thursday that the investigation of Jaliek Rainwalker’s disappearance has been reclassified as a homicide investigation.
Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell was joined by State Police, the FBI, other law enforcement and relatives of Rainwalker as the announcement was made during a press conference held for the fifth anniversary of the investigation.
Police said no particular development had prompted the case to be considered a homicide instead of a missing person investigation, but said the lack of leads that would indicate Rainwalker ran away led to the change.
“We’ve exhausted any lead that’s come in that would be a runaway lead,” State Police Investigator Gloria Coppola said. “It is not a runaway (case). It is a presumed homicide.”
Bell said police recently reached out to the lawyer for Rainwalker’s adopted father, Stephen Kerr, identified by police as a “person of interest” in the investigation, to set up an interview with Kerr.
He said the lawyer, Jeffrey McMorris, indicated “they were willing,” Bell said.
No date for the interview has been set, he said.
“I’m hoping after five years they’ll be able to answer our questions,” Bell said.
McMorris said the interview would take place in the near future, but he said he found it “cruel” for the police to conclude the case is a homicide, with no evidence to that effect.
He said he hadn’t spoken to his clients about the situation, but said they believe Jaliek ran away and will come home someday.
“My reaction is, I’m dismayed they would do this,” McMorris said. “I would have the opinion that, until he is found, the parents are the only ones who have the standing to make that call.”
Kerr was labeled a “person of interest” after police revealed they had found a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies in his version of events.
In particular, he told police he did not leave the home the last night Rainwalker was seen, but police found evidence that included surveillance video that indicated otherwise.
Kerr and his wife, Jocelyn McDonald, were interviewed by police early in the case, but Kerr would not take a polygraph test when asked by police. Police have consistently criticized what they call a lack of cooperation by the couple.
Neither parent was present for the press conference. They moved from Greenwich to Rupert, Vt., in the months after Rainwalker disappeared.
Kerr was the last person known to be with Rainwalker on Oct. 31, 2007, the day he was last seen at a home owned by Kerr’s father in the village of Greenwich. He had been having extensive disciplinary problems and had just come home from respite care.
Police said Thursday Kerr’s status as a person of interest has not changed in the context of shifting the case to homicide status.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright said he could not speculate on whether investigators have moved closer to bringing charges in the case.
“Now it’s a murder case and not a missing person case,” Kortright said.
Bell said more than 500 leads have been followed since Rainwalker was reported missing, with ground searches taking place as recently as Tuesday.
Rainwalker’s adopted grandparents, Dennis Smith and Barbara Reeley, attended the news conference, with Smith calling it a “hard day, a sad day” as police concluded Rainwalker is likely dead.
Smith said he always feared the boy, who was 12 when he disappeared, met with foul play and did not run away.
“We’ve always held out hope Jaliek is alive and would be coming home to his family,” Smith said, fighting back tears. “We love our grandson and we miss him.”
“It’s hard when you have a missing child,” Reeley said.
She added that she took a polygraph test during the inquiry, in contrast with her son-in-law’s refusal.
State Forest Ranger Lt. John Solan said more than 100 ground searches have taken place during the investigation, including one in Troy this week.
Bell said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is reviewing the investigation to date, and police hope the new classification of the case will prompt additional witnesses to come forward.
State Police Senior Investigator Thomas Aiken said police will not give up on the case, and hope that anyone with information will come forward, no matter how insignificant it seems.
Some people who had “loyalty” in the past that kept them from coming forward might be in different circumstances now, Aiken said. He would not elaborate.
“We’ve never stopped. We never will stop,” he said. “We will never stop until we have a successful resolution to this case.”
Cambridge-Greenwich Police can be reached at 692-9332, while State Police can be reached at 583-7000.