The June 15 start of the first phase of a search at Pine Tree Acres Landfill in Lenox Township for the remains of Zion Foster. (Photo provided by Detroit Police Department)

The Detroit Police Department’s intensive, six-month search of a Macomb County landfill for the remains of a teenager allegedly discarded in a dumpster last winter.

Police Chief James White and the Detroit police sergeant who managed the search detailed the painstaking efforts of officers and other volunteers in hazmat gear who spent months combining more than 7,500 tons of trash by hand in an attempt to locate 17-year-old Zion Foster. 

White said during an afternoon news conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters that officers and volunteers spent the summer at Pine Tree Acres in Lenox Township, “digging in a hole of debris, looking for this young lady to bring her home to her family.”

“We made a decision that it was the right thing to do. We put in every possible effort we could into doing so,” he said. “I am so honored to even have the opportunity to lead people like this. People who give up their summers to look for someone’s child who was savagely taken away from them without provocation. 

Zion Foster (Facebook photo)

“It’s a very tragic and sad situation,” White continued. “I ask that all of you keep Zion Foster’s family in your prayers. These are tough times and the investigation continues.”

Foster was first reported missing by her mother on Jan. 5 in Eastpointe. A report was made with Detroit police the next day and the investigation began. By Jan. 19, authorities recounted Friday, Zion’s cousin allegedly told police he had placed her dead body in a dumpster. Officials were then able to determine which truck had picked up the contents of the dumpster and which landfill it had been transported to.

Teams began by removing 20 feet of debris on May 31 and a second phase began in mid-June, White explained. 

The search took place at a focus area inside the landfill with an average of 50 volunteers per day. Each day at 8 a.m., police said, search crews suited up in personal protective gear, respirators, gloves and in hazmat suits to dig through the waste.

The search concluded earlier this month, with crews searching as deep as 50-feet into the ground without recovering Foster’s remains. All told, about $1 million worth of personnel costs and in-kind donations were dedicated to the effort to locate Foster’s remains, White said. 

Detroit police reiterate the phases of a six-month effort to recover the remains of 17-year-old Zion Foster, a teen believed to have been discarded in a dumpster and transported to Pine Tree Acres Landfill in Macomb County. (Photo provided by Detroit Police Department)

Detroit Police Sgt. Shannon Jones said Friday that she was proud to lead the team attempting to recover Foster’s remains and reiterated the strenuous efforts of the dedicated volunteers.

Detroit Public Safety Foundation Executive Director Patti Kukula credited donors toward the search including DTE Energy, the Salvation Army, Adamo, Blaze Construction and Moss Trucking and others. Cash and in-kind contributions toward the search reached more than $453,000, she said. 

Detroit Police Cmdr. Michael McGinnis said although Zion’s remains weren’t found, the department believes it’s built a strong case against the suspect. 

“It goes without saying how sad it is a day for Zion’s family that we were not successful in our attempt,” she said. “However, that does not take away from the investigative work that’s been done, was being done, back here at our headquarters, while this operation was going on at the landfill to try to provide the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office with anything and everything they need while they evaluate this information.”

McGinnis noted that a warrant was submitted in January and said it remains under review by prosecutors. Updates on the case were discussed last week, follow up work continues and another meeting is scheduled in two weeks, he added. 

In the meantime, Foster’s cousin, Jaylin Brazier, remains in custody on unrelated charges and will stay behind bars until at least December 2023. 

“We feel very strongly with our case,” he said. “The evidence we’ve gained from January to now just continues to support the information and the evidence that we already briefed on.”

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