River Region shows support for Talaija’s family

Published 1:32 pm Friday, July 11, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

VACHERIE — What started as a labor of love from a stranger with a goal of raising $10,000 ended with $15,200 in proceeds directed toward a family suffering from the murder of their pre-teen child.

Jerome Jackson, a DJ based in Edgard, said he stopped in his tracks when he first heard the story of Talaija Dorsey, a 12-year-old Vacherie girl announced missing July 1 and found dead Sunday.

Like many in the River Parishes, he felt the tragedy as if it involved a member of his family.

“I was out of town in Florida on vacation for a week when I heard what happened,” Jackson said. “I don’t even know the family, but I have a little daughter that is 12 years old.”

When Jackson returned from Florida, he made some phone calls and came up with the idea of a benefit.

His idea turned into a community mission for approximately 100 volunteers who staked out the Fifth District multi-purpose building in Vacherie all day Thursday, cooking up hundreds of meals.

They wanted to raise $10,000, but they ended up raising more than $15,000. Organizers said the money would go to Talaija’s family for funeral expenses, and family members said anything extra would be donated to Talaija’s school.

“I don’t know the family, but I spoke to the family after (hearing about Talaija),” Jackson said. “I cried a lot. It was a sad conversation. Every two words, they started crying. We couldn’t even hold a conversation because we were crying.”

Jackson credited the fundraiser’s success to a community spirit that has brought strangers together in support of those grieving Talaija’s death.

Sylvia Williams, Justice of the Peace for Ward 6, District 6, served as one of Thursday’s organizers.

“When you say you do an Amber Alert to find a child, this was an Amber Alert to help that family,” Williams said of the response Thursday. “They came in droves from everywhere and from every walk of life.”

At 7 a.m., volunteers began cooking chicken and fish dinners, which were sold for $8 a plate. Williams estimates close to 1,000 people were served.

Williams said her son went to school with Talaija’s mother, Emma Dorsey, but like many other volunteers, she really does not know the family.

“To say I know them personally, I do not, but I’m a grandmother of children, and my heart went out to their family,” she said. “I felt it. This is a loving community. We are there to help them.”

Williams said Dorsey stopped by Thursday with her other children, not saying much, but expressing appreciation for the turnout and support.


St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said detectives have centered on John D. Celestine as the focus of the investigation.

“At this time I don’t have any other person I would consider a suspect,” Martin said.

Celestine was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder. He was engaged to Talaija’s mother and lived with the family in St. James Parish.

“Because I had my entire detectives division and my entire enforcement division working it, we had a lot of things to pick up and gather, a lot of interviews happening,” Martin said. “As we were going through the process of deciphering this evidence, working two to three times a day with the crime lab, I had been advising the D.A.”

Celestine was first arrested July 3 for not cooperating with investigators.

“The D.A. felt strong enough that he wanted to run with it, he empaneled a grand jury in amazing speed,” Martin said.

“He just wanted to make sure we were ready. I felt like we had enough evidence to work with, knowing there is plenty more evidence coming. That is what we ran with. The grand jury saw enough evidence to support it.”

Martin said the State Police crime lab is working with St. James officials, keeping authorities posted every time they finish processing something related to the case.

According to Martin, deputies are revisiting some of their interviews with people involved in the family unit, adding the investigation is ongoing.

“We recognize the kind of case we are dealing with now,” he said. “We recognize the public interest in this case. These are the kind of cases that are going to be scrutinized by the best defenses.

“If the D.A. is successful prosecuting a strong charge like this, you know it is going through the appellate courts all the way up. We’re making sure we are turning over every leaf, crossing every T and dotting every I. We have a lot of work left.”

As of press time Friday the New Orleans Forensic Center, which is conducting the autopsy for the St. James coroner, had not made a ruling on Talaija’s cause of death.

Authorities said the condition of the body, found in a cane field in St. James Parish, has made things difficult on authorities.

District Attorney Ricky Babin said he feels there is enough evidence to convict Celestine in connection to the case, adding he did not want to comment on specific pieces of evidence.

Babin, whose 23rd Judicial District includes St. James Parish, said any case involving life imprisonment or the potential death penalty must go before the grand jury, adding the D.A. can’t file a bill of information that involves life or death.

“The next thing is (Celestine) is going to be arraigned, maybe in the next 60 days,” Babin said. “We have special prosecutors that handle our most egregious cases. It will probably be Robin O’Bannon, but she will have some help.”