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‘Worst nightmare ending:’ Missing mother, daughters found dead in garage; man in custody

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MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales confirmed that Amarah "Jerica" Banks, 26, and her daughters, Camaria Banks, 4, and Zaniya Ivery, 5, were found dead on Sunday, Feb. 16 in a rear garage near 47th Street and Burleigh Street -- a day after an Amber Alert was issued for the children. The boyfriend of the mother was taken into custody in Tennessee.

Amarah Banks, Zaniya Ivery, Camaria Banks

Arzel Ivery

Chief Morales said Jerica Banks was reported missing to MPD by family on Feb. 9. It was later determined her children were also missing. Jerica's mother, Valeria Spinner-Banks said the last time she saw the three was Feb. 7, was after a funeral for Jerica's 1-year-old son, Arzel. The boy died from natural causes. Jerica was dropped off at home with the kids -- and disappeared.

On Saturday, Feb. 15, MPD was notified by police in Memphis, Tennessee that they had contact with Arzel Ivery, 25, of Milwaukee -- Jerica Banks' boyfriend. FOX6's sister station in Memphis WHBQ reported Ivery was arrested in Tennessee after a family member stated Ivery came home talking about an incident in Milwaukee.

MPD detectives went to Tennessee and spoke to Ivery. Chief Morales said Ivery provided information that brought investigators to the garage at Ivery's apartment building near 47th and Burleigh Sunday, where they discovered the three bodies.

Chief Morales was asked why it took a week to issue the Amber Alert and said there's certain criteria that must be met in order for an Amber Alert to be issued -- and noted foul play wasn't an initial piece of this investigation.

The three were reported to have been last seen Feb. 7/8. The Amber Alert was issued for the girls on Saturday, Feb. 15.

Chief Morales said Sunday a criminal complaint was drafted against Ivery to allow police to bring Ivery into custody in Memphis.

Online court records in Wisconsin showed a felony charge of aggravated battery was issued Saturday against Ivery out of Milwaukee County, with an arrest warrant issued. Morales said the charges could be upgraded as soon as Monday -- when autopsies were scheduled.

Domestic violence in Milwaukee

Chief Morales, during his news conference Sunday at 47th and Burleigh, discussed domestic violence, calling it an issue in the city of Milwaukee.

The discovery of Banks and her daughters came two days after Savannah Bailey, a Milwaukee mother of two, was set on fire "by her live-in boyfriend," Morales said. It happened Friday morning, Feb. 14 near 8th Street and Cherry Street. Bailey suffered life-threatening injuries.

Morales noted in 2019, 20% of Milwaukee's homicides and non-fatal shootings were the result of domestic violence, adding that something needs to be done about this problem, but it's not just a police or prosecutorial issue.

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City leaders respond

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett also weighed in at the scene.

"It's truly a horrific story, and it raises many, many, many more questions than it does answers as to how someone could do this to a woman and her two children, and it is heartbreaking, heartbreaking after all the work that's gone through, to see that this is the end result," said Mayor Barrett. "It's the worst nightmare ending that you could imagine in a situation like this, and I think more than anything now, we need to surround the family and help the individuals that have lost their lives, to let them know that this community cares for them. There's really no words that can describe the anguish that they are feeling right now in losing loved ones in their family, going through a funeral, and having the rest of the family, having their lives end this way is truly a tragic situation."

The mayor also addressed domestic violence -- and preventing situations like this.

"As the police chief said, domestic violence is a serious issue in this community, and we do need additional resources to deal with domestic violence situations," said Mayor Barrett. "This is not the first that we’ve had in the last week. In fact, there have been several high-profile domestic violence situations that we’re seeing throughout the city that -- a significant number of our homicides, our shootings, our deaths, are related to domestic violence. We will obviously regroup, not only with the police department but with our Office of Violence Prevention, with others, to see how we can do what we can to reduce horrible stories like this.”

Reggie Moore, director of the City of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention shared this message on social media -- pointing to resources available for domestic violence victims and loved ones:

State Senator Lena Taylor, who is running for mayor, spoke with FOX6 at the scene.

“It’s horrifying to know children and a mother have lost their lives in such a tragic way, but it’s also troubling that this is a norm, and it’s heartbreaking to know that her sister went to the police department every day, seeking help, and it leaves you speechless," said Taylor. "There is no question that domestic violence, human trafficking, and the connection to those issues, even wrapped in poverty, and feeling a need to stay with someone, all of those things are at high rates in this community, and there’s a need for literacy, of what a healthy relationship is like.”

She asked that the community step up when domestic violence is suspected.

"Praying that every community member, when we hear something, we say something, whether it’s your neighbor, your sister, your friend, or your mother, or whether, whoever it is, that you say something," said Taylor. "To the mothers, we have to raise our boys to be type of men that will respect whoever they’re with, and it’s going to take all of us to change the plight of where we are in this community, and to literally teach literacy of relationships, healthy relationships.”

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