Samantha Green’s family and extended family were frantic with worry. She had failed to show up at a family gathering on Saturday with her new infant son. Her mother and sister called Woodland police on Monday to report that she and the baby were missing.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Green made a panicked 911 call from a remote slough in Yolo County. Sheriff’s deputies found her, scratched and confused. Then, nearly 17 hours later, deputies in a patrol boat found the body of her baby, 20-day-old Justice Rees, in thick brush near the Ridge Cut Slough on Wednesday morning.
The outcome left searchers in tears and two families with questions over a wrenching tragedy and mystery.
Yolo County authorities said there is no early indication that Justice died as the result of homicide.
The child’s paternal grandmother, Patty Rees of Woodland, described the infant as “one of the sweetest babies I ever held.” She said Green, who turned 23 on Wednesday, was thoroughly devoted to her newborn.
“She was a little first-time mom,” Rees said of Green, who had lived in her home for the past year along with her son, Frank Rees, Justice’s father, and his four children from a previous relationship. “She was so sweet with Justice. There were some hiccups, but it was just all new-mom stuff, like trying to figure out how to make day and night work. ... She was a good mom. Attentive. I don’t think she did anything to that baby.”
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Green placed a call to law enforcement from the Knights Landing area of Yolo County.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman said she was found soon afterward in a backyard near the Ridge Cut Slough. She was wet and crying for help. Her car was parked near the opposite end of the slough, past deep thickets of brush and trees. The distraught woman said she had a baby that had been with her near the slough, but she didn’t know where.
“We found the female, but the son was not with her,” said sheriff’s Capt. Dale Johnson.
At 9:50 a.m. Wednesday, a sheriff’s boating patrol unit found the baby’s body near the slough, between where the vehicle was parked and the mother was found Tuesday.
Yolo County sheriff’s and coroner’s spokesman Capt. Larry Cecchettini said the baby’s body was “located in a thicket of brush right off the slough.” Cecchettini’s voice cracked with emotion as he made the announcement.
He said it wasn’t known how the baby died but that the case wasn’t being labeled a homicide. “It’s too early to tell from the investigation if there was any foul play,” Cecchettini said.
Randy Green, Samantha Green’s father and the maternal grandfather of Justice, was grief-stricken at the news.
“This was not the outcome we wanted,” Green said after showing up at the temporary sheriff’s command post near the slough. “We wanted our daughter and our grandson ... it’s mind-blowing. It’s like a dream I’m still trying to wake up from.”
Randy Green said he last spoke to Samantha on Saturday when she was supposed to bring the baby to his house for a visit. He said his daughter was acting “fine” but that she didn’t show up. Two days later, family members reported her missing.
Samantha Green’s sister, Aissa Green, put out numerous Facebook posts pleading for information on the whereabouts of her sister and nephew. A flier, posted online, included a photograph of Samantha Green, Justice and Samantha’s vehicle. It asked for people to keep an eye out in Woodland and Sacramento, Yolo and Solano counties for a 5-foot-6 woman “who just had a baby and does appear to have a pregnant look to her still.”
“Justice is a two-week-old boy,” the post went on. “His car seat is green and grey.”
Frank Rees posted on his Facebook page that Samantha Green is his fiancée and Justice was his child. “If anyone sees Samantha Green my beautiful fiancee please tell her that EVERYONE is worried sick about her and Justice. We love you Samantha. Just come home babe. I miss you and our son soooooo much. Whatever it is you want different we can fix. I love you momma.”
While police reported no evidence of foul play involving Samantha Green or the baby, Patty Rees said her son “told me she (Samantha) had been abducted.” Frank Rees, who his mother said visited Samantha Green on Wednesday at a Yolo County hospital, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Before Justice’s body was found, Frank Rees posted on his Facebook page that he had $5,000 to pay to anyone who knew where the child was. “He is our son and I will trade my life for his if need be,” his post said. “We can keep it public or private. Up to you. I will kill and die for any child you don’t want to know what I’ll do for my own.”
After finding Samantha Green on Tuesday, sheriff’s deputies and other searchers scoured the area looking for the missing baby.
The hunt stretched through Tuesday night and included dog teams, California Highway Patrol helicopters and 95 search and rescue officers from 10 agencies. It concentrated on Ridge Cut Slough, a body of water that runs east and west just before coming into the small community of Knights Landing after crossing over the Highway 113 bridge.
At daybreak, searchers walked along the brush- and tree-covered banks of the slough. Searchers said they were looking for any evidence of a scramble up the banks of the slough from the water.
Helicopters overhead aided in the search, and crews came from as far away as Contra Costa County to try to find Justice.
Local firefighters also hiked the banks looking for the child.