Detrez Green's parents' trailer was shredded as emergency workers searched for the 2-year-old after a January tornado in Albany, Georgia. Police said, before the search, the trailer had still been standing, though a large tree fell on it, causing it to bow.
Photo: JOSHUA SHARPE/JOSHUA.SHARPE@AJC.COM
Photo: JOSHUA SHARPE/JOSHUA.SHARPE@AJC.COM

Police, family doubt toddler was ‘swept away’ in Georgia tornado

ALBANY – The parents say his body must be out here somewhere.

Piney Woods Estates and several other mobile home parks in the area are but overgrown country now, choked by wild thorny bushes and tall grass. Battered mobile homes and debris are strewn about, the trees twisted and bent. When the rain falls, it falls into people’s abandoned living rooms and bedrooms, onto their couches and old baby shoes, because the roofs are gone.

The parents of 2-year-old Detrez Green said he was “swept away” here in January during a tornado that pummeled the outskirts of this southwest Georgia city. It brought winds of 150 mph, strong enough to lift trailers – and, yes, children – from the ground.

Crews rushed in to search after the mother’s 911 call. Strangers showed up and asked if they could help find the poor boy who, everyone feared, was dead or, best-case, trapped under the wreckage, scared.

This was the story as it appeared on CNN, in papers and on the lips of officials in the days after the storm.

But, quietly, the case changed.

Suspicions grew as other victims were found quickly and Detrez wasn’t. The boy’s parents, Kevian Green and Adijah Rainey, made statements that didn’t “mesh” with those of witnesses, and they couldn’t provide a picture of their toddler, according to Dougherty County police.

Lica Coley, Rainey’s aunt, who’d been sending authorities to the couple’s home for years because she feared what was going on inside, was eager to help the police. She told them she and other relatives worried something — whether intentional or accidental — had happened to the child before the storm.

She spoke of a toxic atmosphere in her niece’s home, with Green accused multiple times of beating Rainey. Coley answered investigators’ questions about the family and referred them to others.

Ten months later, she said she’s heard no plausible explanations about what happened that night. Detrez is still missing, haunting Coley and people around Albany, who want answers to one of the most discussed and speculated about child disappearances in the area’s recent memory.

As she waits, Coley tries to make sense of a conversation she said she had with Detrez’s parents right after the tornadowhen they called her.

“Nobody said anything about a kid was missing,” Coley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They said they were fine.”

911 calls

Green and Rainey haven’t been charged with any crime related to their son’s disappearance. But to fully consider what might’ve happened to Detrez, police and some family members say, it’s worth looking at the couple’s history.

The parents didn’t respond to interview requests the AJC sent through relatives and social media, or notes left in person. Public records and numerous interviews with officials and people who know them, however, offer insight into their lives and the case.

Kevian Green during an interview on CNN while the search raged for his 2-year-old son, Detrez Green, after a tornado in Albany in January. (CNN screenshot)

Coley, who treated Rainey like a daughter because the mom lived out of town, heard of Green long before Rainey did. She is a talkative woman with a swelling pride for her kids and worked for years at the Turner County 911 center in Ashburn, an old peanut farming town about 4,000 people 35 miles east of Albany.

In 2010, calls started coming in about Green. He was 22 at the time, a stoic trucker in a crumbling marriage.

His wife said he beat her repeatedly, including at least once in front of her children, ages 2 and 3, according to a sheriff’s office report. Green denied it, and no charges stuck. But Coley remembered his name two years later when Rainey revealed him as her boyfriend.

Rainey was still in school at Turner County High, a social girl who grumbled about her drab ROTC uniform.

Coley, whose brother is Rainey’s dad, tried to talk the teenager out of dating Green, who is more than seven years older. “Everybody tried,” she said.

But in October 2012, Green announced on Facebook that the two were engaged. Rainey was a rising senior. Green was separated and would remain married another two years. The new couple lived in a trailer with windows covered in black trash bags.

On Sept. 8, 2013, the 911 center got another call about Green.

The distance grows

Rainey, who was pregnant, said she had been frying chicken when Green came in talking about Facebook. They started to argue over a “friend,” and he punched her in the head, according to her statement to deputies.

“I balled up in the kitchen floor hollering, then he hit my head against the wooden pole, constantly, non-stop,” she wrote, “then he picked me up by the neck choking me, feet dangling.”

Green was arrested and charged with battery in the case, which is still pending. He wrote a statement maintaining his innocence: “She lied and put marks on herself.”

Coley helped Rainey leave him, but the couple reunited in a few weeks after Rainey gave birth to Detrez’s older brother. On Facebook, the mom called him “the greatest thing that has happened to us.”

They moved into a house on Pineknot Road and grew further apart from her family.

The aunt said she dispatched law enforcement to check on her niece repeatedly, not because the niece called but because the aunt was worried.

Most everyone stayed out of the couple’s home.

“I guess he just don’t like nobody in his house,” Green’s older brother, Jerry Green, told the AJC.

He dismissed any notion that a proclivity for privacy translates to having something to hide.

He said Rainey’s family has always been bent on breaking up the couple because they don’t like his little brother, not because his brother is a bad person, not because he would do anything to hurt Rainey or their children.

‘I’m going to shoot him’

Detrez Green was born Oct. 28, 2014.

He came home to Pineknot Road. Then the police came.

On the baby’s fifth day, Rainey’s father told Coley his daughter had called him and said, “If my baby daddy don’t stop beating me, I’m going to shoot him,” according to a police report.

Grady Rainey called police, who went to the couple’s home but got no answer at the door.

The chief called in the SWAT team.

Kevian Green’s sister, Breanna Griffin, told the cops her brother had pulled a pistol on Adijah Rainey several times.

After two hours, Green emerged and was arrested, but Adijah Rainey said everything was fine.

“I told her I knew something was not right,” investigator Jacob Teter, who worked the case for Ashburn police, told the AJC. “She stuck to her story. That’s always one of the hardest things to do: Get a domestic violence victim to speak out.”

Police released Green without charges.

The Raineys said the Georgia Division of Children and Family Services was notified of the SWAT standoff.

DFCS spokeswoman Susan Boatright said she couldn’t speak about any specific case, but the agency listens to police. Sometimes, if police don’t have enough to file charges, DFCS doesn’t have enough to say children are in danger.

So the children stayed home, but were rarely seen by the Raineys.

Almost none of the mother’s family, Coley included, would ever meet Detrez or even see a picture.

The storm pounds

The band of storms slipped across the Florida Panhandle on Jan. 22.

It spit a tornado, then another and another. When the mass reached Albany, it had produced six and killed 11 people across South Georgia.

Now, at 3:15 p.m., the last tornado barreled toward Piney Woods Estates, where Detrez’s family had lived a few months.

Jerry Green said his brother told him he was watching TV; Detrez was playing with a remote control car in the kitchen. The other son and a new baby daughter were also there.

“He said he heard the strong winds and everything blowing,” Jerry Green said.

Homes in the area started to crumble. Roofs cracked and flew, then tables and kitchen counters and sinks, then picture frames and DVD cases. Insulation shredded and mixed with the rain, making a yellowish paste that would coat everything.

A rescue worker carries a dog that was trapped inside a mobile home Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Big Pine Estates that was damaged by a tornado, in Albany, Ga. Fire and rescue crews were searching through the debris on Monday, looking for people who might have become trapped when the storm came through. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Photo: Branden Camp/AP

Detrez was near the kitchen door when it flung open, the dad said. About the same time, a massive tree fell and split the trailer, separating the parents from the child on the other side. Rainey started toward Detrez, but Green feared she’d get hurt and threw her down.

With the kitchen door open, the wind pounded. The parents screamed in the darkened afternoon and wondered how they’d save their boy until…

“It snatched my nephew out the trailer,” Jerry Green said.

When the wind died down, residents emerged to see the devastation. Chris Terrell, 33, who lived near Detrez’s family, told the AJC he went to help neighbors.

At Rainey and Green’s trailer, he helped extract the baby girl, who was apparently unharmed, between a fallen dresser and a wall.

Terrell said he then asked two men in front of the trailer if they needed more help. (According to Jerry Green, one of the men was Kevian Green, the other a neighbor.) “They said no,” Terrell recalled.

‘Don’t lie’

In the next few hours, the parents’ reaction seemed off to some.

Jerry Green said he remembers them distraught and crying. But Coley said she never saw her niece cry, and she was shocked by how soon her niece referred to Detrez in the past tense. Willie Rainey, Adijah Rainey’s grandfather, said Green complained about a missing cell phone, not a missing son.

Sgt. David McVey, Dougherty County police’s lead detective on the case, said he was concerned because, in his assessment, the parents’ emotions weren’t “in it,” and because of what he called conflicting statements, though he wouldn’t elaborate. He also noted that the most dramatic damage wasn’t in Piney Woods Estates, but was in nearby Big Pines Estates trailer park.

A screenshot of a video showing the damage to the trailer of Detrez Green s parents after a January tornado in Albany. The trailer was later shredded as emergency workers searched for Detrez. (Handout)
Photo: Jerry Green

He said nothing was spared in the search, which went on for five days, involved hundreds of personnel and cost several million dollars in manpower and equipment.

“We’re pretty confident we would’ve come across his remains,” McVey said.

Six days after the tornado, a child welfare worker took custody of Detrez’s 3-year-old brother and infant sister.

“I wondered why,” Coley said. “Unless DFCS was trying to cover their tracks.”

Asked why the kids were taken, the DFCS spokeswoman again mentioned that the agency listens to police.

Police searched the house on Pineknot Road and a home in Perry where Detrez’s parents briefly lived after Ashburn. McVey said authorities considering “all avenues” of what happened and believe it might not have happened in Dougherty County.

Jerry Green knows what people are saying.

“Don’t nobody know my brother like I do,” he said. “He ain’t lyin’.”

Coley doesn’t want to believe Detrez is gone. But her hope wanes with time as she looks back on how her niece and Green behaved after the tornado.

Coley’s sister, Whitney Rainey, said she confronted their niece about Detrez. They were having a video chat and the niece wouldn’t look her in the eye while telling about those last moments in the trailer.

“Don’t lie,” the aunt said she told her.

Then Adijah Rainey started to cry.

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