The discovery of Alianna DeFreeze’s body in an abandoned home on the city’s eastside Jan. 29 staked a brutal end to a days-long search for the missing girl. Somewhere between home and school, she fell victim to a monster
. The city reeled in anguish, and, for the umpteenth time, found itself having to confront the oft-ignored problems for many who walk these dangerous streets.
Beginning last week, local clergy members are now walking with young students to their schools or their bus stops. A growing fear in some Cleveland neighborhoods admits how easily this crime could have taken place; DeFreeze needed to take two city buses to get to her school, leaving her home at 6:30 a.m. often in pre-dawn darkness. According to reports, she was walking alone when she was taken on Jan. 26.
The home where DeFreeze was found is just two blocks away from the Fourth District police department headquarters.
Christopher Whitaker, 44, meanwhile, was charged with aggravated murder, rape, kidnapping, aggravated burglary, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. His bond was set at $3 million last week, and he will be arraigned this Thursday. As Prosecutor Mike O’Malley described the crime: “The allegations are that the defendant followed a child from the bus stop, kidnapped then savagely and brutally assaulted and murdered her, taking the life of a beautiful, little girl. These actions, along with this defendant's extensive criminal history, are strong indicators that a high bond is necessary, and that he is definitely a significant threat to the safety of the community.” Investigators confirmed that he had raped, beaten and stabbed DeFreeze to death.
O'Malley has said that his office will seek the death penalty in this case.
Whitaker’s criminal past stretches back more than 20 years. In 2005, he was charged with sexual battery, rape, attempted murder, kidnapping and two counts of felonious assault. A plea deal dismissed most of those charges, leaving Whitaker with a sexual battery charge and one count of felonious assault; he was sentenced to four years in prison. Later, theft charges landed him an additional year in prison.
During that time, several other teenage girls were found murdered near the home where investigators found DeFreeze. In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 29 discovery, Councilman Zack Reed began stoking fears that a serial killer was on the loose around the East 93rd spine of Cleveland’s eastside. During a press conference, at least one frenzied reporter made sure that Police Chief Calvin Williams addressed the idea that Cleveland should be bracing for another Michael Madison-type problem. He told the media that police officers are always aware of the possibility of connections among homicides, though he did not back up Reed’s now-disproven claim, which incidentally was repeated as “sourced” information in reports from Fox 8 News and Cleveland 19 News.