Jerice Hunter was arrested Thursday on first-degree murder and child abuse charges.
GLENDALE, AZ (CBS5) -
For most of Jhessye Shockley's short life, her mother, Jerice Hunter, was in a California prison for child abuse.
Jhessye was raised by her cousins, and while the picture of a beautiful little girl is so familiar to so many now, they were the family members who tucked her in at night, knew what her laugh sounded like and loved her like she was their own child.
CBS 5 News spoke with her family in an exclusive interview.
"She was very special, very special," Victor Rice said.
"Smart, intelligent, she was a superstar," Lisa Vance said. "It' so sad, it's so sad because the world missed out. They missed out on a beautiful kid, they really did."
Bittersweet is how Vance and Rice describe the arrest of Hunter for the alleged abuse and murder of Jhessye.
"No, we didn't find her, but are we going to get justice for Jhessye? Yes, ma'am. We are," Vance said.
Vance said she never had a doubt from day one that Hunter was responsible.
Vance and Rice helped raise Jhessye along with Vance's sister.
They were the ones police contacted throughout the investigation and they were the ones invited to the landfill the day police ended their search for Jhessye's remains.
The couple considers today the first day of their healing process though they know much more is ahead.
"When I hear guilty and all that I could really go forward with my forgiveness," Rice said. "Right now, I'm still hurting too bad to do that."
"We understand that we still got a long way to go but we got a good start this time, and I'm very confident that Jerice is going to get what's coming to her," Vance said.
They say they will finally get what they've longed for since accepting the fact that Jhessye was never coming home.
"We need a proper memorial for Jhessye, that's what we want, a proper burial for her even though we don't have her body," Vance said.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
SPECIAL SECTION: Missing Jhessye Shockley SLIDESHOWS: Search for Jhessye INTERVIEW: CBS News' Donna Rossi's exclusive interview with Jhessye's mother Jerice Hunter FLIER: Jhessye was reported missingMore>>
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