TEMPLE TERRACE — Felecia Williams enjoyed playing hide-and-seek and tag, and was quick with a knock-knock joke, said her friend, Zakiyyah Scott.
Zakiyyah, a 9-year-old who lives at Doral Oaks Apartments, where Felecia went missing Friday night, spoke fondly of her friend on Sunday morning, a time when the two girls might be found playing outside.
Temple Terrace police confirmed later Sunday that a body found floating off the Courtney Campbell Causeway on Saturday was that of Felecia, a 9-year-old who lived in Tampa and was in the fourth grade at Edison Elementary School. They classified her death as a homicide.
Police are investigating several leads, Temple Terrace Police Chief Kenneth Albano said during a news conference. But he did not release any information about a suspect or many other details of the case in an effort to keep the investigation from being jeopardized, he said.
No immediate family members were considered suspects, Albano said.
“I spent yesterday evening with the family,” Albano said. “I went out there and I made a promise to that family and to that mother that we would do everything we could to ensure that every step was taken and every stone was turned so that we could bring to justice the person that’s done this to her daughter.”
On Saturday, Temple Terrace Police arrested family friend Eboni Wiley, 23, and charged her with making false statements to law enforcement. She was released Sunday after posting $2,000 bail.
Authorities said that Wiley picked up Felecia from her Tampa home Friday afternoon and took her to Doral Oaks for a visit.
When Wiley got out of the shower between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., she discovered that Felecia was missing, authorities said.
It took Wiley five hours to alert authorities, police said.
An Amber Alert was not released because at the time, and due in part to misinformation Wiley provided to police, the case didn’t meet the criteria, Albano said.
Boaters discovered Felecia’s naked body shortly before 3:30 p.m. Saturday. She was floating among rocks and mangroves just off an access road north of the causeway near Clearwater city limits, police said.
About 30 family members and friends gathered at the sight on Sunday evening for a vigil. They said a prayer for Felecia and lit candles before releasing balloons and saying “I love you.”
Felecia’s grandmother Brenda Johnson, of Tampa, said her granddaughter was very loving and energetic, the type of person who couldn’t sit still. She was one of five children.
“If she ever went anywhere out of the ordinary, she always made a phone call,” Johnson said.
Pastor Chris Daniels, of Prophetic Angels Ministry in Tampa, is married to Felecia’s cousin. He led the group in an invocation before they released balloons.
“She was very quiet and a very loving person,” Daniels said.
Felecia Demerson, the girl’s mother, was at the vigil but had trouble speaking.
Friend Laura Waiters, of Tampa, said the mother is very distraught.
When asked about the time it took Wiley to notify authorities about the missing girl, Waiters said “We’re all still trying to figure that out.”
She said Felecia Williams was happy and joyful.
“She loved to cut jokes and they were actually pretty funny,” Waiters said.
Temple Terrace Police knocked on doors in the Doral Oaks apartment complex on Sunday morning.
One family in the complex said an officer showed them a black and white mug shot of a man.
Albano said that officer was acting on his own and was not authorized to show that photo.
“He was getting out in front of the investigation,” Albano said. “That was not authorized by me.”
News of Felecia’s disappearance had an unsettling affect on some Doral Oaks residents.
Zakiyyah Scott’s mother, Kiyanah said she “freaked” when she heard that Felecia was missing.
“I wanted to cry,” she said. “I know her.”
Kiyanah Scott said that the complex is typically full of sounds of playing children on weekends, but, even with cloudless skies and a light breeze on Sunday, everything was quiet.
“It’s sad that you can’t just let your kids go outside and play,” Scott said.
Christina Talley, who has lived in Doral Oaks about a year, said that she has kept her three children inside.
“And I’m double locking the door,” she said.
Due to circumstances surrounding the investigation, Albano said he believes Williams’ death is an isolated incident.
“We want this person to stand accountable for this atrocity,” Albano said. “I think our children are our most precious gifts. There is nothing more precious than a child. We should be vigilant, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep your children safe and the citizens of our city safe. ... But there are always going to be bad people doing bad things to innocents.”
Tribune reporter Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report.