Three young Black girls were strangled and left in a pond last summer in east Texas, and no arrests have been made in a case that advocates and experts believe has been severely mishandled by local authorities.
Nine-year old Zi’Ariel Robinson-Oliver, 8-year-old A’Miyah Hughes, and 5-year-old Te’Mari Robinson-Oliver, known as the Oliver 3, were reported missing on July 28, 2022, in Atlanta, Texas. The girls’ cousin, Paris Propps, who was watching the three sisters and their siblings while their mother was at work, reported the girls missing around 9 p.m. Hours later, on July 29, all three bodies were found in a nearby pond.
Initially, authorities said it was a drowning. But in March, nearly eight months after the girls were last seen alive, the Cass County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that a homicide investigation is underway.
“Autopsy reports concluded the manner of death for all three girls was homicide, indicating evidence of strangulation. The girls also suffered lacerations to their faces,” the press release obtained by Yahoo News from the Cass County District Attorney’s Office said.
Now advocates are stepping in to demand answers. On April 3, Minister Quanell X, the leader of the New Black Panther Nation, traveled four hours from Houston to hold a press conference in Cass County and demanded that the FBI and Department of Justice step in to investigate. The FBI has not responded to a request for comment from Yahoo News.
Quanell X stood beside the mother of the Oliver sisters during the press conference. “She was told that they drowned, but she always had a suspicious feeling that the girls did not drown. Well, her suspicions were confirmed by the autopsies,” Quanell told Yahoo News.
The Cass County District Attorney’s Office is currently working with the Texas Rangers and the sheriff’s office to investigate the murders. “Multiple witness statements have been obtained, DNA testing is ongoing, and the investigation will continue,” according to a statement obtained by Yahoo News from the district attorney’s office. Yahoo News contacted the office for additional information but a spokesperson declined to provide more details.
According to U.S. Census data from 2022, Cass County has a population of 28,539 people, and advocates say the town does not have enough resources to investigate three homicides.
“They were presumed drowned because of a sham investigation, a lazy investigation by investigators who obviously didn't have the resources, the training that was necessary to properly address an investigative crime scene,” Quanell said.
Investigators are still searching for suspects, but experts say the months-long time lapse could have been avoided.
“The usual time frame [for autopsies] depends, I would say within two weeks,” David Thomas, professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, told Yahoo News.
But for small towns, “they send those autopsies off to a whole different county, hours away from that county to do the autopsy,” Quanell said.
However, the autopsy reports are just one piece of the puzzle. Thomas says more could have been done at the time investigators found the girls in the pond.
“They sat and they made an assumption that they had drowned, which would be unusual for three people to drown at the same place, at roughly the same time — [it] doesn’t make any sense,” Thomas told Yahoo News. “If it was Gabby Petito, the world would have come to a stop.”
Revolt Black News weekly recently reported that authorities were aware that a crime had occurred soon after the incident, but just recently released the information to the public last month. “However, they didn’t say why they delayed sharing the info,” the article stated.
“At the end of the day, any seasoned investigators when they retrieved the bodies from the [pond] would have been able to see that this was more than some accidental drowning by the bruising on the faces and the necks of the girls,” Quanell said.
Quanell believes the investigation is not a priority because the young girls are all Black. “I think Cass County is doing what Cass County historically does when it comes to investigating injustice and murder involving Black people as victims. They’re not taking this case seriously in my eyes, because it’s not three young white children,” he said.
“National statistics tell us that over 60,000 Black women are missing, and Black women are twice as likely than they appear to be victims of homicide,” Brittany Lewis, co-founder of Research in Action, told Yahoo News in March.
Now experts say the investigation will be much harder because of the lengthy time lapse. “That eight month time gap is devastating,” David Carter, professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University and a former Kansas City, Mo., police officer, told Yahoo News.
“The longer time between when the bodies are found and the investigation begins, the harder it is. It’s harder to find suspects, certainly harder to find witnesses, and harder to find evidence,” Carter said.
Carter says that as a former member of the law enforcement, there’s no excuse for the delay in the investigation. “I’m really at a loss of why a criminal investigation wasn’t started immediately,” Carter said.
As authorities continue to investigate, advocates emphasize that whoever committed these crimes is still at large.
“They could be anywhere,” Thomas said. “But I would say the likelihood that they knew that pond was there would probably give you an indication that it might be somebody local or somebody that's very familiar with the area.”
“This sounds like a very, very targeted personal crime,” Carter added.
There have been no arrests in the nearly year-old case, but more people are pushing for justice. Recently, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and celebrities like Viola Davis and Niecy Nash shared a montage video on social media of the Oliver 3. The video was created by Black Girl Gone, a true crime podcast that sheds light on Black girls and women who are missing.
“A child killer. A serial killer is on the loose. One who was not afraid to murder three children. And if you kill three you will kill more. Especially when you believe you will get away with it like this perpetrator has,” Quanell said.
On April 26, Quanell and the New Black Panther Nation plan to host a town hall in Cass County, as they continue to seek justice for the Oliver sisters.