GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport's police chief says the emotion surrounding the brutal killing of 5-year-old Janaya Thompson went "straight to the heart." That horrible crime happened one year ago today.
Leonard Papania had been Gulfport's police chief for less than three months when this unthinkable crime occurred. The young girl with the sweet smile, nicknamed Nae Nae, was ready to start kindergarten, when she was abducted, sexually assaulted and left hanging in a vacant trailer.
Police officers are trained to keep their distance, emotionally, from such crimes, but in the case of Janaya, that was a near impossible task.
"If you let it into your heart every time, to make 25 and 30 years, it's virtually impossible. But with Janaya's case, there was no way. It went straight to the heart," said Papania.
Papania says he relied on a first rate team during the initial search and subsequent investigation. Through difficult circumstances, they embarked on what he calls this "horrible experience."
"It's work that has to occur in our society, because it's unfortunate. We have evil people out there, but I just thank God we have people like our investigators that are willing to do this job, and they do it well," said Papania.
He recalls not only the professional response from law enforcement and emergency personnel, but also the tremendous outpouring of community support.
"The City of Gulfport and the Gulf Coast is full of wonderful people, and we really got to experience it. The way they stepped forward to reach out to that family and to help law enforcement was tremendous," he said.
The nature of this horrible crime touched so many people. We asked Papania if Janaya's death reminded people to pay more attention to the safety of children.
"I would hope, as you're asking, that part of that change is looking out a little bit better for our children. But not to say that there was any failures in this. When evil's out there, evil does some tremendously bad things."
Papania says he'd like everyone to keep Janaya's family in mind.
"We as a community, what we can do now for that family, as a community, is continue to support them and pray for them," he said.