DETROIT (WXYZ) - Rosita Cage-Toaster never gave up hope that she'd find her missing daughter. She just never imagined that it would end with such a painful and startling surprise.
"I never would have thought I'd be living this nightmare. This is hell," she says.
That nightmare is one that Cage-Toaster has endured for almost 8 years.
It all started when her 28-year-old daughter Crissita disappeared in Detroit on October 26th, 2009. Her car had been found abandoned near the Belle Isle bridge, with her purse, cell phone and ID still inside.
The family started putting up missing posters with Crissita's picture. They also filed a police report and told investigators that Crissita had a distinctive rose tattoo.
Days turned to years, but through it all Cage-Toaster refused to give up on finding her daughter.
"I knew I had to do my own my work, my own detective work," she says.
In April, she says she reached out to a national missing persons organization and pleaded for help. She urged them to focus on the fact that Crissita had a distinctive tattoo.
She told them, "Please focus on the tattoos, one descriptive tattoo was the one with a big rose that said me and my husband's name, our nicknames, Blue and Ro."
She says that's when they contacted DPD and only then did Detroit Police notice there was indeed a connection between a body found in 2010 and her daughter. It was that unmistakable tattoo.
urns out, Crissita's body had been found back on March 30th, 2010. That's just 5 months after she'd gone missing. Cage-Toaster was told Crissita had somehow ended up in the Detroit River.
"I don't want this to happen to nobody, system has to do better," she says.
So, for almost 8 years, she and her family had no idea that Crissita had been dead. For most of that time, Crissita had been buried at a Canton cemetery, associated only with a number.
Cage-Toaster says investigators dropped the ball. She says they could have made the tattoo connection right after her daughter's body was found. She also says it was assumed that Crissita wasn't African-American.
"Someone put down that she was Hispanic or Caucasian. That's what they claim the mix-up was," she says.
7 Action News went to Detroit Police to try and get some answers.
Lt. Kenneth Gardner told us, "Her body had been in the river all of that time. The complexion and things of that .. go undergoes a change. It's hard to elaborate on that."
But there was also that tattoo. Why couldn't that connection have been made years ago?
"During that time and period in Detroit history, I cannot really account for what may or may not have happened, but what I can say is that the team that we have in place today, they were able to make a turn around in 24 hours and connect the dots," Gardner says.
Cage-Toaster and her husband say their family would have been spared years of agony had this case been handled the right way.
"It was rough. It was no easy task going through the 8 years of not knowing where she was," says Johnny Toaster, Crissita's dad.
"Everybody is 'I'm sorry.. I'm sorry'.. no you're not sorry. You can't feel my pain... You didn't go through what I went through all these years. I don't want to see anybody ever have to go through this," says Rosita Cage-Toaster.
Crissita's family is hoping to have her body exhumed so they can have a proper burial.
They also wanted to retrieve her belongings that had been found in her car, but police told them they'd been destroyed.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office tells us they did document Crissita's tattoo in the autopsy report they provided to DPD.
They also tell us that the appearance of the body gave them no reason to question the ethnicity on the initial report from DPD, which listed her as Caucasian or, possibly, Hispanic.
Her death was ruled a drowning, circumstances unclear.
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