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Family Wonders Why Amber Alert Not Issued After Mother And Daughter Found Dead in Car In Wisconsin Lake

The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office investigated a 911 call of a suicidal subject who was "threatening to drive her vehicle into the lake with her daughter inside" hours before the vehicle was found.

By Caitlin Schunn
Tragic Car Crash Crime Scenes

Loved ones are looking for answers from law enforcement after a mother and daughter were found dead in a submerged vehicle in a Wisconsin lake on Thursday.

The discovery came hours after deputies investigated a 911 call from a suicidal subject who was “threatening to drive her vehicle into the lake with her daughter inside,” according to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.

The causes of death were not disclosed, but family members identified Khalilah Brister, 25, and Tyrielle Jefferson, 7, as the deceased, according to Milwaukee’s NBC station WTMJ-TV

Brister’s mother, Jackie, told Milwaukee ABC station WISN she knew her daughter wasn’t well. Jackie said her daughter took her car and wallet without permission on Wednesday morning, after which she reported her daughter to Milwaukee police.

“I told them she wasn’t right, you know? That had never happened before,” Jackie Brister said to WISN. “I told them that, and their concern was ‘we’ll find your car.’”

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Brister said she got a phone call a few hours later from Tyrielle Jefferson’s paternal grandmother.

“The other grandmother called me and said, ‘Jackie, there’s a lady on my phone. She was down by Bradford Beach. She said Tyrielle came running up to her, said her mother was trying to kill her, and the lady said she went back and talked to my daughter, and my daughter said she was tired. She just wanted to go into the water,’” Jackie Brister told WISN.

The station reports that this conversation prompted Brister to call the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) 911 dispatch center and Milwaukee Police.

“The police officer said, ‘ma’am we’re only dealing with the aspect of your car,” Jackie Brister told WISN. “That’s something the sheriff’s department has to handle because it happened in the park system.” 

Brister told the station she heard nothing back.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were sent to the area around Bradford Beach, but were contacted by the OEM before arriving and told the call for help was canceled, because “the subjects had left the scene,” WTMJ reported. A deputy sheriff still searched for the subjects and vehicle but was unable to find them, according to the sheriff’s office.

“I don’t think the sheriff took it seriously when we called Wednesday night and was talking about her going into the water,” Brister told WISN. “Why wasn’t an Amber Alert issued then?”

On Thursday morning, Brister’s mother called the MCSO Criminal Investigations Division and told them she was still concerned since she hadn’t spoken to her daughter since 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, WTMJ reported. The sheriff’s office said they took more steps to find the woman and her vehicle but were unable to locate them. 

“I didn’t hear nothing else until the detectives came here,” Brister’s mother told WISN, alleging the deputies did not follow up.

At 1 p.m. Thursday, Milwaukee police found the vehicle submerged in Northridge Lake — Brister and Jefferson’s bodies were in the car.

Brister’s family told WTMJ that Brister was battling a mental illness.

“You could tell she [Brister] was dealing with something, but probably didn’t know the best way to reach out to someone,” Brister’s uncle, Donnell Boose, said to WTMJ.

Before Brister drove to Northridge Lake with her daughter, Brister reportedly used a woman’s phone near the lakefront, and that woman expressed concern about the young mother and her daughter, according to the family's conversation with WTMJ.

“She called the police, she took pictures of the license plates,” Boose told WTMJ. “She gave her $20 and told her it was going to be okay.”

WISN asked the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office and Office of Emergency Management why a critical missing report was never issued. The sheriff's office said that's still under investigation.

"They didn't do they job,” Brister’s mother said to WISN. “They dropped the ball. I'm very angry because now I don't have my daughter. I don't get to see my granddaughter grow up."

Monday night, Sheriff Denita Ball issued this statement to WISN:

“No matter how you look at it, the loss of this mother and daughter is tragic. Our heart goes out to the family and loved ones. Further discussions are being had regarding assignments involving multi-jurisdictional calls for service. The Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) are two separate and independent entities that have a longstanding, trusted, and critical working relationship."

The sheriff's office told WISN once they learned the mother and child had left the area, deputies were told OEM was relaying the information on the mother's possible whereabouts to other jurisdictions and law enforcement.

"This information relayed to the deputies was interpreted as the assignment being cancelled because it was transferred over to another jurisdiction(s),” the sheriff said in the statement to WISN. “In spite of that conclusion, a deputy checked the area anyway and was unable to locate the vehicle and subjects. Transferring MCSO calls to other jurisdictions prior to our arrival, depending on the situation, is a common occurrence. The MCSO does have policies on Public Alerts, Missing Person response, etc., which are implemented when it is established that we are the primary investigating agency. On the following day (Thursday), when MCSO was contacted, we began to investigate. The MCSO Criminal Investigations Division initiated procedural steps related to a critical missing persons investigation. During the course of those steps being taken, we were notified that the vehicle was located by MPD."

Oxygen.com has reached out the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office but has not yet heard back.

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