Jaliek Rainwalker was last seen at a home belonging to his adoptive father’s parents in the 10 block of Hill Street in Greenwich, New York on November 1, 2007. His adoptive father, Stephen Burrell Kerr, spent the night alone in the house with him.
Jaliek disappeared during the night and has never been heard from again. Kerr says he woke up the next morning and, at 7:30 a.m., found a note Jaliek left behind. It read: “Dear everybody, I’m sorry for everything. I won’t be a bother anymore. Goodbye, Jaliek.” Kerr reported his son missing at 8:57 a.m. He is not believed to have been carrying any cash or credit cards when he went missing.
Jaliek had been living with his adoptive parents, Kerr and his wife Jocelyn A. McDonald, for five years by 2007. He was born addicted to crack cocaine and spent his early childhood in six different foster homes. His parents stated Jaliek had violent temper tantrums and his four siblings were afraid of him.
Jaliek’s former foster parents, Jodi and Larry Schoen, who cared for him for four years, confirmed this, stating his outbursts could last up to an hour. They described Jaliek as a very intelligent but very troubled child. The Schoens had originally planned to adopt him, but after he attacked their daughter when he was seven, they decided he could no longer stay in their home. He then went to live with Kerr and McDonald, who have three biological sons and one adopted daughter. The couple’s children ranged in age from eight to fourteen at the time of Jaliek’s disappearance.
Jaliek’s adoptive family led a non-traditional lifestyle at the time of his disappearance: their home in rural Washington County, New York had no running water, the toilets are outhouses, its only electricity comes from a generator that runs for several hours during the day, and everyone slept in one room. The family stated they lived this way because it was better for the environment. Jaliek’s family still owns the home, but in 2008 they moved to West Rupert, Vermont.
Kerr and McDonald stated Jaliek was both s*uicidal and ho*micidal at the time of his disappearance, but he wasn’t taking any psychiatric drugs or receiving any therapy for his mental conditions. On October 23, a little over a week prior to Jaliek’s disappearance, Kerr called a crisis hotline and said his son was unmanageable.
Kerr stated Jaliek had threatened a small child in his homeschool group and McDonald was afraid of him and no longer wanted him at home. Kerr said he and his wife wanted to reverse the adoption. The crisis worker said it was not possible to reverse the adoption and suggested respite care instead.
Jaliek was sent to the home of Elaine and Tom Person, licensed foster parents who had provided respite care for him in the past. They kept him until November 1, then gave him back to Kerr, who planned to send him to another respite home the next day. That was the day Jaliek was reported missing.
An extensive search of the area turned up no indication of Jaliek’s whereabouts. Within a few days police announced they thought he could have met with foul play, since it is unlikely that a child of that age could survive on his own. The possibilities that Jaliek ran away or committed su*icide have not been ruled out, however.
McDonald took a polygraph in his case, but Kerr refused to take one. Both parents maintain their innocence in his case and stated they believed their son simply ran away. They suggested he might be living with an African-American family or gang, as Jaliek had always considered himself black rather than biracial and had wanted to live with other African-Americans.
The Persons said the farewell note Jaliek supposedly left on the night he vanished was not a goodbye note, but rather a letter he was assigned to write by his father for homework. Kerr allegedly told his son to write a note apologizing to the people he had harmed, and Tom saw him writing it, although he didn’t actually read it. Elaine and Tom believe this was the note found after Jaliek vanished.
Elaine, several of Jaliek’s former foster parents, and his adoptive maternal grandparents have started a website publicizing Jaliek’s disappearance. Elaine wrote she believed Kerr harmed Jaliek on the day he went missing, and caused his disappearance.
In January 2008, police named Kerr as a person of interest in Jaliek’s disappearance. They stated they had video surveillance camera footage of Kerr driving his van around Greenwich after midnight on the night of Jaliek’s disappearance, at a time Kerr says he was asleep. Cellular phone records also indicate Kerr took a different route to the house than he had said.
Investigators appealed for information on Kerr’s whereabouts on November 1 and November 2. In February 2008, police conducted a search warrant on Kerr’s father’s home, where Jaliek was staying when he disappeared. They seized a computer to try to determine if the machine was used to write the the alleged goodbye letter, but couldn’t prove or disprove the theory. Days after the search, Kerr and McDonald filed a lawsuit against the police department, alleging they’d been illegally detained and the search was improper.
Jaliek’s adoptive maternal grandmother, Barbara Reeley, has been active in the search for him and filed for custody of him after his disappearance, but was denied. In July 2008, she was charged with burglarizing Kerr and McDonald’s home. Reeley has pleaded not guilty.
Shortly after the burglary, police went to the home and removed a piece of clothing for testing. They stated Reeley had seen the clothing while she was inside; in a media interview, Reeley said it was the yellow fleece shirt Jaliek was said to have been wearing when he disappeared. Photographs of Reeley, Kerr and McDonald are posted with this case summary.
In a media interview, Reeley stated Kerr had anger management issues and had been going to counseling for them, and that McDonald had made him move out of the family home for brief periods twice in 2007 because of his aggressive behavior towards the children. Reeley said she witnessed one incident where Kerr became angry with Jaliek, dragged him outside and repeatedly dunked him in a nearby creek. She said McDonald made Kerr write a letter of apology to Jaliek for this and made him do the child’s chores for a month.
Jaliek may be in the New York cities of Albany or Altamont. Authorities stated they have little evidence as to his fate and no one has been charged in connection with his case, but foul play is suspected in his disappearance.
There are a few theories in this case, although one rings more obvious than the others.
- Runaway. Did Jaliek run away? Not very likely as all his belongings were left behind- the same ones that Steven said he took with him. If he ended up in the wilderness of New York it is almost certain he would not have survived.
- Joined a gang. Steven still brings up this theory and believes this to be a real possibility.
- S*uicide. Jaliek did have a rough life, maybe he was just tired of it? All the bouncing around? Possible abuse? How does a 12 year old commit su*icide and hide his own body?
- Steven Kerr & Jocelyn McDonald. This is what everyone believes, including the police.
A couple more interesting case facts.
No one is quite certain why, but Steven and Jocelyn adopted Jaliek and their daughter and changed their last name to Rainwalker. Jaliek was also not receiving any care for his disabilities.
The foster families that cared for Jaliek previously, along with community members and even strangers, have paid for billboards, participated in searches and hung up missing posters. Steven & Jocelyn have done none of those things.
How was the home of Steven and Jocelyn approved to be a therapeutic foster home? The state has to conduct evaluations and approve foster homes. Did they fool children and family services or is their lifestyle- one without running water, seven people in a two room cabin- acceptable for foster care in New York? Perhaps this case should shine light on that system and how that likely played a role in failing little Jaliek Rainwalker.
So what do you think happened to poor Jaliek?
Do you believe, as many do, that Steven Kerr is responsible?
Do you think Jaliek may still come home one day?
If you have any information as to Jaliek’s whereabouts- please call the Greenwich Village Police Department at 518–692–9332.