"We know Janteyl is still out there," says sister of missing Delaware teen on 12 year anniversary of her disappearance
Funny, feisty, and full of love for her family is how Janel Kirby-Brinson describes her little sister, Janteyl Johnson.
"Janteyl is a beautiful soul. She is the type of person that, if you meet her, you will remember her," Janel, 35, told me during an interview at her North Philadelphia home.
Janteyl, affectionally known as Puff because of her puffy cheeks when she was a baby, was a typical teenager who enjoyed singing, dancing, and playing pranks on her siblings. She also ran track with her brother, loved to do hair, and was a big fan of Betty Boop.
“If you know Janteyl, you know she does not go anywhere without her Betty Boop pocketbook," Janel said.
Soft-spoken and shy, Janel, a mother of four, finds it hard to talk about Janteyl's disappearance 12 years ago, and says it's like pouring salt on an open wound.
“It hurts. I know for me, it plays a lot with my anxiety. It can really put me in a bad state of mind.”
Janel was 23 and had two kids, a girl and a boy, when Janteyl, then 15 and five months pregnant, vanished from her apartment in Newark, Delaware, on the afternoon of Feb. 3, 2010.
"Puff and my son were very close. He adored her! When she went missing, my son and daughter would sleep with her picture on their pillows."
Both, now teenagers, still ask about their aunt Puff.
“My son asked me one time, 'Is she dead? Where is she?' I told him, 'Don't ever say that because she’s not. We don't know yet. We’re still looking,'" Janel explained, fighting back the tears.
The sisters had a special bond. Janteyl confided in Janel and asked if she would take her to the doctor to
take a pregnancy test. When they got the positive results, the sisters broke the news, first to their mother and then to the rest of the family.
"Of course, there was disappointment because she got pregnant young. That would be disappointing for any family if their child got pregnant young," Janel said. "But when she went missing, there was no argument in the family. Everyone came to accept it [the pregnancy]. What can you do at this point? There was no getting rid of it; therefore, it was, okay, let's move forward.”
The family turned their attention to the alleged father of Janteyl's unborn child and were stunned to learn that he was a 27-year-old man who reportedly lied to Janteyl about his age when he met her.
“She told me that he said he was much younger, closer to her age, and I asked her, 'Does he know about the baby?' She said, 'Yes,' " Janel recalls.
Janteyl reportedly met the alleged father of her child in the Wilmington, Delaware, neighborhood where she and her family lived before moving to Newark in 2010. According to Janel, the 27-year-old panicked when Janteyl told him she was pregnant.
"She said he wanted her to get an abortion. He wanted her to get rid of the baby because if it came out [about his age], it's automatic lockup for him," Janel said.
Feb. 3, 2010
The last incoming call to Janteyl's phone was at 1:38 p.m. the day she disappeared, New Castle County police confirm. Janel believes the call was from the baby's father, but the police have not publicly confirmed that information or revealed his identity. According to investigators, citing Janteyl's phone records, not long after that last incoming call, Janteyl stopped answering her phone. Hours later, her phone, according to Janel, pinged near the home of one of the man's relatives. The pregnant teenager was never seen or heard from again.
"I believe he called her and said he wanted to talk to her about the baby, and it was his way of getting her in the car, and his way of going on with his plan…whatever his plan was. But I do not think his plan was for her to return,” Janel said.
Who else was Janteyl communicating with?
Janteyl's case is complicated. Unbeknownst to her family, in addition to the alleged father of her child, Janteyl was also communicating by phone with two other much older men the day she vanished, New Castle County police confirm. But because no one at the apartment complex saw her talking to or arguing with anyone or getting in a car, there is no concrete evidence that makes clear what happened to Janteyl when she walked out of the apartment. According to New Castle County police, of the three men Janteyl was in contact with that day, only one has met with investigators. The other two, including the alleged father of her child, have not been cooperative with the investigation then or now.
“I can't call him a man because a man would not do those things," Janel said. "It gives you a sense of anger because how dare you take my sister's joy, life, future, and freedom while you still get to live your life?” Janel said.
She also has strong words for the other men who were contacting Janteyl.
"Why were you even talking to a 15-year-old child? You need to explain that! What could you possibly have in common with her? She was a child!"
Janteyl's family has not given up hope. They believe that Janteyl is still out there, and that it's a matter of time before she's found.
"I know she's still with us. I know she is. If you know something about my sister please come forward, " Janel said.
Investigators have not publicly identified any of the men Janteyl was talking to and have not named any suspects in her disappearance. Who are those men, and where are they now? I've tracked down two of them.
More to come...
If you have any information regarding Janteyl Johnson's case, please contact Det. Roberto Herrera of the New Castle County Police at: 302- 395-2784 or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333
Claudia Rivero Investigative Reporter/Producer