DES MOINES, Iowa — Aishia Lankford prayed every day since her daughter went missing in July that the girl would be found alive.
It was almost nine torturous months, Lankford said, filled with sleepless nights and fear about what happened to 10-year-old Breasia Terrell. But the 29-year-old from Davenport, Iowa, also maintained hope that she'd once again see her daughter dance and sing to her favorite songs from Disney's "Moana" and flash her smile, which Lankford said could light up the world.
Terrell was reported missing July 10 after spending the night with her half-brother at the apartment of his father, Henry Earl Dinkins, in Davenport. Human remains discovered last week by fishermen in a wooded area north of DeWitt in rural Clinton County, about 25 miles north of Davenport, were confirmed to be Terrell on Wednesday by the the Davenport Police Department.
"Words cannot describe the heartache and emptiness that we feel," Lankford said Wednesday in a statement to the Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network. "Our love for Breasia has gotten us through the past nine months and will continue to see us through as we fight for justice."
Dinkins, 48, is in custody on sex offender registration violations unrelated to Terrell's disappearance and death. He has been named a person of interest in the case, but has not been identified as a suspect.
Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski said the investigation into Terrell's death is ongoing.
“We grieve alongside Breasia’s family and the community,” said Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski said in the news release. “What’s important to know is this: the work of our investigators is not over. ... We understand that the community wants to know where the investigation stands, and if anyone will be charged in this heinous crime.
"Because we are fully committed to the integrity of the investigation, we cannot comment on specific details – other than to say we are professionally, thoroughly and with our deepest commitment to justice, continuing the investigation. When we can share details with the community, we will.”
'Bring Bree home': Search continues for missing Davenport 10-year-old Breasia Terrell
Remembering Breasia Terrell
For Lankford, the pain of her daughter's disappearance has been indescribable. She spent countless days and nights unable to sleep or eat, her mind consumed with finding Terrell. Rumors and online bullying made a bad situation even worse, she said, so she took down her social media accounts.
Terrell was a "truth-teller" who always spoke her mind," her mom said. Their last exchange, on July 9, was a quick phone conversation that ended with "Goodnight" and "I love you."
To push through her saddest days, Lankford would write notes and letters to her daughter in a purple notebook — Terrell's favorite color — reminding the girl of how smart, strong and beautiful she is.
Days before Dec. 4, which would have been Terrell's 11th birthday, her family gathered in Davenport. They struggled to say "happy birthday" without her there but celebrated the girl they called impactful, independent and unique.
And her loving nature and humor were undeniable, Lankford said: She was a big sister and her mother's best friend.
They voiced their love for Terrell and vowed to never give up searching for her.
On Wednesday, after police confirmed her greatest fear, Lankford said they'll keep searching — but now it will be for "answers to what happened on the night she was last seen."
The search for Breasia Terrell
Davenport police say they followed up on every lead or tip that came their way about Terrell's disappearance and possible whereabouts and encouraged people to come forward with information they may have about her.
An Amber Alert was issued soon after she was reported missing, and hundreds of law enforcement officers, members of the Quad Cities Missing Person Network, and other volunteers looked for her. Searches were conducted around Credit Island, a small island on the Mississippi River where some said Dinkins liked to fish, and other wooded or swamp-like areas.
They all turned up empty.
The search was moved to Clinton County on July 16 after police said in a news release they obtained new information but did not specify what that information was. (The area where Terrell's body was found March 22 is in Clinton County.)
The police-organized search of areas within Clinton County ended July 20. In a news release, Davenport police said they intended to focus resources on leads that had developed.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had also assisted Davenport police in the search for Terrell, and emphasized the importance of keeping her name and picture shown in the media, and to not give up hope.
"We want to thank the community, law enforcement, friends and family who have put countless of hours to help bring Bree home," Lankford said Wednesday.
What we know about Henry Earl Dinkins
Dinkins pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse of a minor in 1990, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
He currently faces three counts of sex offender registration violations after he allegedly failed to report his residence where Terrell went missing and two of his vehicles to authorities, which is required for registered sex offenders in Iowa.
Dinkins has pleaded not guilty to all three sex offender registration violations. Trial is set for those charges on May 10 and is expected to last four days, court documents indicate.
The state plans on seeking habitual offender enhanced sentencing for Dinkins based on these new charges and past felony convictions, according to court documents. If convicted as a habitual offender, Dinkins would have to remain in confinement for at least three years.
Court documents show Dinkins is wanted by the state of Illinois after failing to appear in court in April 2019 on drug charges. According to Bureau County, Illinois online court records, Dinkins is charged with delivery or possession with intent to deliver over 900 grams of methamphetamine and manufacturing and delivering — or the intent to deliver — over 200 grams of amphetamine or an analog of the drug.
He will not be extradited to Illinois until his pending charges in Iowa are settled, court documents indicate.
Dinkins' lawyer, Jack Dusthimer, has not returned multiple requests by the Register for comment.
Lankford said Dinkins isn't talking about her daughter's disappearance and refused her recent attempts to visit. She has previously said Dinkins got emotional when he saw Terrell's face on a T-shirt she was wearing during an earlier visit and denied having information that could help locate her daughter.
Lankford told the Register that Dinkins and she aren’t close, and only see each other every couple of months when Dinkins wants to see his son. Lankford said although she was aware Dinkins was on the sex offender registry, she and her daughter never felt unsafe around him. Terrell had been around Dinkins since she was a baby.
Terrell had never stayed overnight at Dinkins' house before she went missing; Lankford told the Register she allowed it in July because Terrell was having fun with her half-brother and wanted to stay.
Follow Andrea Sahouri on Twitter @andreamsahouri.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Breasia Terrell: Authorities identify remains of 10-year-old girl