Florida mom recalls 12-year-old child's murder: 'You just never know who's around you'

The case of Naomi Jones is explored in the ID docuseries 'True Conviction'

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Shantara Hurry has chosen to relive the most horrific moment of her life in hopes other parents won’t experience a similar pain.

The tragic case involving her daughter Naomi Jones is featured in the true-crime series on Investigation Discovery (ID), "True Conviction."

For the show, decorated homicide prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi travels across the country to explore how the nation's top prosecutors tackled their toughest cases. It features interviews with loved ones, investigators, experts and others closely connected to the cases.

Hurry told Fox News Digital she wanted to make sure her 12-year-old child won’t be forgotten.

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The case of Naomi Jones is explored on Investigation Discovery's (ID) "True Conviction."

The case of Naomi Jones is explored on Investigation Discovery's (ID) "True Conviction." (ID)

"I felt like my daughter’s story deserved to be heard on a more national level," she said. "It’s important for me to be her voice."

Hurry described the Florida preteen as a "charismatic leader" and a fashionista – one with big dreams. In the episode, "The Lost of Innocence," Hurry detailed how the pair had an unshakable bond.

"We grew up together," Hurry explained. "I had her when I was young. A lot of people told me initially that your kids are not your friends, but she was very much my best friend. She encouraged me when I needed to be encouraged. She showed me love when I needed love. She pushed me to keep going when I felt discouraged. And of course, I did the same with her. We were so close because we were growing up together."

Hurry said she continues to replay the last moments of their time together.

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Shantara Hurry (right) said she had an unshakable bond with her daughter Naomi Jones (left).

Shantara Hurry (right) said she had an unshakable bond with her daughter Naomi Jones (left). (ID)

"I never thought that on my way to work that I would never see my daughter again," she said. "I remember that day as if it were today. I remember running late to work. I told Naomi, ‘Mama loves you, I’m heading to work. I’ll see you when I get home. I need you to come and lock the top door.’ Then I kissed her. I waited until I heard that top lock, which was a deadbolt, before I headed to work. That was the last kiss and the last ‘I love you’ I gave to my child."

Hurry stressed that in her household there was a strict rule to never open the door to anyone while she was at work. If the family dog needed to be walked, all four children needed to stick together and never leave each other’s side. They were forbidden from speaking to strangers.

Hurry said her world came crumbling down May 31, 2017. On that day, Jones went missing from her family’s apartment complex. Hurry was at work when one of her sons called to tell her they hadn’t seen Jones for an hour. Hurry immediately left work. Her Pensacola community was horrified by the news of the disappearance.

"I wouldn’t have ever imagined that so many people would come together to look, but they did," said Hurry. "There was so much unity to find my baby. The community banded together and did whatever they could to try and find Naomi. I had never seen anything like it before.

"People everywhere just came forward to offer a helping hand. I was literally bombarded on Facebook with leads. It was an intense and difficult situation to be dealing with, and I was pulled in so many directions. But I also felt we had such a strong foundation. I was very hopeful that my daughter would come home."

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Naomi Jones, seen here with the family dog, was described as an obedient child who was always with her siblings.

Naomi Jones, seen here with the family dog, was described as an obedient child who was always with her siblings. (ID)

Deputies spent days searching for Jones, and they received investigative help from the FBI. Leads from those in the community continued to pour in. There was even a $20,000 reward for information leading to Jones’ whereabouts.

But just days after a Florida Missing Child Alert was issued for Jones, her body was found in a stream by fishermen. The creek was located nearly five miles away. Preliminary autopsy results indicated she was suffocated.

Hurry said she was determined to remain strong for her three surviving children. But she struggled behind closed doors.

"I couldn’t trust anyone," she admitted. "I still don’t. The same small circle of friends I had back then are the same ones I have now. But I had to be there for my children, no matter how much I was hurting. And I knew some people automatically think negatively of preteens and teenagers. I knew my daughter and the kind of person she was. Not all children are runaways. Not every situation is the same."

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Robert Letroy Howard of East Brewton, Alabama, was arrested June 8, 2017. 

Robert Letroy Howard of East Brewton, Alabama, was arrested June 8, 2017.  (Escambia County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said that Robert Letroy Howard often "frequented" the home of his girlfriend in the Aspen Village apartment complex where Jones and her family lived.

Investigators came into contact with Howard as they canvassed the neighborhood after Jones was reported missing, Morgan said. He added that Howard gave authorities "false information" that he was in Alabama when the child disappeared.

According to Morgan, surveillance video captured Howard near the creek where Jones’ body was found. Investigators put him under surveillance and took him into custody soon after. Morgan said the girlfriend’s apartment is "very close" to the Jones apartment.

Records show Howard is from East Brewton, Alabama. He was convicted in 1999 on two counts of sexual assault and rape. He served 15 years in an Alabama prison.

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Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Detective Michelle Wert at a crime scene.

Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Detective Michelle Wert at a crime scene. (ID)

Howard was arrested on charges of kidnapping, killing and disposing of Jones’ body. In an interrogation video, Howard confessed to strangling Jones and throwing her body in Eight Mile Creek.

It would take a grueling four years of delays until Howard was finally found guilty of first-degree murder in 2021. Chief Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen argued that Howard kidnapped Jones with the intention of sexually assaulting her and then murdered the child to cover up the crime. The 43-year-old was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

"Naomi was 12 years old," Nicolazzi told Fox News Digital. "It’s important to tell her story because she could be anyone’s child, sibling, friend. It hurt to tell her story because there is an additional level of anguish when thinking about child homicide. But this happened, and Naomi deserves for us to think about it, remember her for who she was and all that she could have been."

"Her mother Shantara is amazing," Nicolazzi shared. "She is full of heart even in the wake of such loss. She channels her pain for the good of others, and that is inspiring to me. On ‘True Conviction,’ we want to give voice to the voiceless, and highlight the paths to justice. There is so much to these cases, these people, beyond the headlines. Sharing that with our audience is what ‘True Conviction’ is all about."

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Shantara Hurry spoke out on "True Conviction" in hopes her daughter's memory won't be forgotten by the public.

Shantara Hurry spoke out on "True Conviction" in hopes her daughter's memory won't be forgotten by the public. (ID)

Hurry said there was an overwhelming sense of relief to know her daughter’s killer wouldn’t harm anyone else again.

"I want people to understand that you can never feel so safe anywhere," she warned. "Whether you live in a gated community or a lower-income neighborhood, predators are everywhere. Naomi was a young lady who was so obedient, very Southern, very respectful. It’s so important to educate your kids and be aware of your surroundings. My daughter was so much more than just a tragedy. You just never know who’s around you."

The 'True Conviction' episode titled 'The Loss of Innocence' can be streamed on discovery+. New episodes air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ID. The Associated Press contributed to this report.