On May 5th, 2020, 9-year-old Jadalee Pagan was brutally attacked by a family friend, Jah’Sean Hodge in Saint Cloud, Florida. Jadalee’s mother, Veronica Snyder, calls Jah’Sean Hodge Jadalee’s uncle, although there is no relation. Minutes after the attack, police made contact with Jah’Sean Hodge where he refused to obey orders to stop, shouted to shoot him multiple times, and rushed an officer who ended up shooting and killing him as he tried to retreat after the taser proved ineffective. While Jadalee Pagan was still too injured to speak while in the children’s ICU, her mother spoke to news stations and said that police had shot the wrong person. She stated that Jah’Sean Hodge was attempting to protect Jadalee from an unseen intruder and was injured during the incident. She continued by saying that “he saved his niece’s life” and that he was a hero.
This response led to a public outcry despite all evidence pointing to Jah’Sean as the only perpetrator in the attack. When Jadalee became well enough to speak, she named Jah’Sean and only Jah’Sean as her attacker while still in the ICU. After this, Jadalee’s mother changed her opinion and made a statement saying “we finally got answers, and I have a lot to accept, but I just want to say that St. Cloud Police Department did their job. Let’s just not make this any worse than it is”.
Additionally, DNA evidence from the knife and barbell used to stab and bludgeon Jadalee, blood on Jah’Sean’s shirt, and skin under Jadalee’s fingernails all pointed to Jah’Sean being the only attacker. Jadalee has survived the attack and has recovered well.
Jadalee did not grow up with her mom, Veronica Snyder, since she was incarcerated in 2012 shortly after Jadalee was born. She was released in September of 2018. Even at the time of the incident, Veronica Snyder typically stayed in her boyfriend’s apartment downstairs while her two children, mother, and brother lived in the upstairs apartment. Jah’Sean Hodge, who Veronica Snyder calls her brother, though is of no blood relation, did not live upstairs with Jadalee but did stay there sometimes according to Veronica’s mother. He was a close friend of the family.
On May 5th, 2020, Veronica’s mother left to go to Walmart with Veronica’s brother, who was dropping her off there. Before she left the house, 21-year-old Jah’Sean took a shower, and was last seen on the floor by the TV with 9-year-old Jadalee. They both were on their phones. As far as Veronica’s mother could tell, everything was normal, including Jah’Sean’s behavior. Minutes after she left, Veronica’s boyfriend heard a scream from upstairs while in his downstairs apartment. Hearing a commotion wasn’t unusual living in an apartment building that housed several children. Veronica’s boyfriend jokingly said, “who screams like that?”, to which he was told that it was probably Jadalee mad at a game. After walking to his kitchen, he heard a second scream that sounded aggressive and like a man “in rage”. From the downstairs apartment with her boyfriend, Veronica then heard Jah’Sean say “Oh my God” while running down the stairs. Upon looking out the window, she witnessed him running south down their road.
Veronica and her boyfriend ran up to the upstairs apartment to investigate the noises and found Jadalee covered in blood on the living room floor. Veronica’s boyfriend told a neighbor to call 911 and also called himself. His call came into emergency dispatchers first at 12:43 P.M., and the neighbor’s call came in less than a minute afterwards, about 10 or 15 minutes after Veronica’s mother left to go to Wal-Mart. On Veronica’s boyfriend’s 911 call he can be heard pleading for an ambulance and states that he is not sure what happened but that the child is bleeding from her head and needs immediate help. On the neighbor’s 911 call, the neighbor went upstairs to the apartment and relayed to dispatchers that there was a knife involved. As Veronica’s brother was nearing the apartment building after dropping off their mother at Wal-Mart, he receives a call from Veronica telling him that Jadalee is bleeding. When he arrived, he saw Veronica holding Jadalee’s bloody body, took her from Veronica, and loaded her into the car to go to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, the car used to transport Veronica and Jadalee was stopped by police where Saint Cloud Police Department first got confirmation that Jadalee had definitely been stabbed and was bleeding profusely from her neck.
When they arrived at Saint Cloud Regional Medical Center, a patient access employee heard Veronica and her brother yelling for help saying that Jadalee had been stabbed. A paramedic who was doing screenings for COVID 19 outside of the hospital’s emergency department transported Jadalee from the vehicle into the hospital and noted that blood was “bubbling” out of Jadalee’s neck and overheard Veronica and her mother talking about an “uncle” that wasn’t related to them possibly being responsible. Once inside the hospital, a nurse heard Veronica’s mother state “you know he was going to do this” to Veronica, but who she was talking about was not said. Because of the severity of Jadalee’s injuries, she was transported to Arnold Palmer Hospital and was admitted into the children’s ICU. There, she continued to receive treatment and surgeries for her injuries, and it was noted that a “J” was carved into her forehead. Veronica was not able to stay with Jadalee because of COVID 19 precautions. Instead, she made appearances on local news where she said that Jah’Sean was actually a victim of the attack by an unknown perpetrator and was running erratically covered in blood trying to find the person who attacked him and Jadalee.
When police went to the house where the incident happened, they found blood on the main door to the apartment building, the stairs and wall leading up to the apartment, both sides of the apartment door, on the carpet in front of and further back from the television in the living room, and on the door of one of the bedrooms. Inside of the kitchen sink was a bloody knife with the blade broken from the handle and in the bedroom with the bloody door, blood was found on a barbell with weights on both sides. Veronica’s boyfriend said the knife was originally near Jadalee on the floor where the blood stains were, but he moved it to the sink when it was almost stepped on.
On May 8th police began to try to interview Jadalee while she was still in the children’s ICU. Interviewing her took many attempts because she would often get upset, not respond, or become confused. In one attempt she was asked if she knew how she got hurt and she said she did not know. When asked if she remembers being at her house, she said that she had a dream where Jah’Sean stabbed her. She then goes on to ask for them not to be brought there. During another interview with Jadalee in the children’s ICU, Jadalee named Jah’Sean as the only perpetrator multiple times and said “I stood up to say ‘hi’ and then I said ‘why do you have that knife in your hand?’” to which he responded “it was you” before stabbing her. She also stated that he choked her while “killing her”.
Jah’Sean’s Movements After the Attack and Police Shooting
After Jah’Sean left the apartment, he jogged south on the apartment’s street and about a block away he passed two teenagers on a golf cart who called 911 because he was bleeding and acting strangely. During police interview they stated that at one point he looked like he was on the opposite side of the street and may come out into the middle of the street and tapped his fingers together like he may be attempting to get their attention but then went back to the other side of the road and continued to run. They made eye contact with Jah’Sean but he never said anything. In their 911 call they noted that he had blood on his hands, chest, and head. Behind them was a U-Haul driver that also passed Jah’Sean but he didn’t make an attempt to flag them down either. Shortly afterwards a 12-year-old child saw Jah’Sean who pointed in his direction and yelled to “get back in the house”.
Jah’Sean continued south until he reached the driveway of a person he did not know and laid face down in their driveway. A neighbor saw this and asked Jah’Sean if he was okay and he said “yes”. This neighbor went inside before coming back out 10 seconds later to see Jah’Sean running north towards O P Johnson Park, before jumping a fence on the corner of a block about two and a half blocks from the apartment. Here, he opened a camper door of a person he did not know and went inside before jumping the fence into another person’s yard where he removed his shirt inside of their screened in pool area. He then ran across the street from this house before police make contact with him while he’s in their front yard, shirtless and covered in blood. He first approached Officer Fertic who was on the passenger side of the patrol vehicle. Officer Fertic repeatedly ordered Jah’Sean to stop and pulled out his taser. Jah’Sean responded by saying “shoot me then” and continued to approach him. Officer Dunn stepped out of the driver side door and pulled out his firearm. Jah’Sean then abruptly changed his focus and rushed Officer Dunn. The taser was deployed without any effect, Officer Dunn attempted to retreat, then fired his firearm 4 times, killing Jah’Sean Hodge. The officers performed CPR until EMTs arrived.
As a result of canvassing a two-block radius of the attack, police recovered several pieces of evidence along with witness accounts. Many witness statements were taken, none of which showed anyone running in front of Jah’Sean or anyone leaving the apartment building besides Jah’Sean. Surveillance video also showed Jah’Sean jogging down the street, not chasing anyone. At one point, a police officer saw someone matching Jah’Sean’s description jogging down the road before losing sight of him.
Witnesses heard banging and noises that were recognized as weights being dropped and clanked together. The bloody barbell found in a bedroom in the upstairs apartment not only tested positive for Jah’Sean and Jadalee’s blood and no one elses, Jah’Sean’s bloody fingerprint was left on it. The knife blade and handle found at the crime scene tested positive for Jadalee and Jah’Sean’s blood and no one else. Similarly, the shirt Jah’Sean removed in a neighbor’s screened in pool area only had his and Jadalee’s blood. Jah’Sean’s DNA was also found under Jadalee’s fingernails. There was no evidence or DNA from a third party.
Upon autopsy, it was found that Jah’Sean Hodge had 14 stab wounds, most being on the left side and superficial, consistent with being self-inflicted. This is collaborated with text messages recovered from his phone that indicated that he attempted to kill himself at or around the time of the attack. Three of the stab wounds were more substantial, with one nicking a lung, another piercing his chest wall, and one cutting through his pinky to the bone. Toxicology only showed cannabinoids in his system.
Complicating this tragic case was the inconsistencies in stories. These inconsistencies fueled theories that led to the public outcry. For example, according to statements made to police, Jah’Sean’s behavior was normal when he was last seen with Jadalee directly before the incident. In one of these statements Veronica’s mother said that Jah’Sean had taken a shower, was laying on the floor near Jadalee in front of the TV, and was acting normally. Contrary to what was said in police statements, Veronica said to a doctor at Saint Cloud Regional Medical Center that she witnessed Jah’Sean “acting crazy and running around the house”. What Veronica saw and heard during the incident has also been inconsistent. In a police interview, Veronica told police that she went downstairs to have a cigarette after her mother and brother went to Wal-Mart. Minutes later she heard him run down the stairs saying “oh my God” then saw him through the downstairs apartment window running south on their street.
When another officer was driving Veronica to Arnold Palmer Hospital she made and received several calls. In one of the calls she told the person on the other end that she passed Jah’Sean on the stairs while she ran upstairs from the downstairs apartment and noticed blood on his hands. On another call made during the car ride she said that she had seen him “chasing the guy that had hurt Jada”, though she didn’t see anyone he was chasing. While at Saint Cloud Regional Medical Center, Veronica told a patient access employee that she was laying in her bed in the downstairs apartment when she heard screaming coming from upstairs and this time she also said that Jah’Sean passed her on the stairs. When she told the patient access employee, she specifically said he said nothing to her. To the patient registration coordinator, she said that she was gardening outside when she heard a scream and that she saw Jah’Sean running from the house, bloody. This also contradicts her boyfriend’s statement which said she was in his apartment with him. The next time she spoke to the patient registration coordinator, she said that she didn’t see anything and that she thought he was chasing after someone. The patient registration coordinator stated that at this time she stopped asking Veronica questions because she felt that her “story was changing every time they spoke about it”.
Through these statements and high emotions, a third-party attacker theory developed. A rumor began that someone had run through the back yard and was possibly involved. This was ruled out after police interviewed a neighbor who was watering their flowers in the back yard of the apartment building during the incident. This neighbor stated that they heard what they thought was kids jumping around before Veronica began screaming for help. They stated they never saw anyone in the back yard of the apartment building and that the back yard can not be accessed through the common area of the house.
Although the mother’s of both Jadalee and Jah’Sean speculated publicly that Jah’Sean was actually a victim of the attack and was behaving strangely because he was wounded and trying to find the attacker, statements made by Veronica and others show that even those closest to the situation suspected Jah’Sean from the beginning. An example of this would be the statement reported by the paramedic doing COVID 19 screenings at Saint Cloud Regional Medical Center where Veronica and her mother were suspecting Jah’Sean was responsible for the attack immediately after getting to the hospital. Still, statements to news outlets continued to be made until Veronica heard Jadalee tell investigators that Jah’Sean was the culprit numerous times, and DNA evidence showed only Jah’Sean’s DNA. In the end, Veronica spoke to the media again and expressed that she struggled to believe that Jah’Sean was the attacker because of his relationship with the family, but she conclusively knows who did it now, though she will never know why.