Family of Slain Father-to-Be Wants Answers From Foster Care System

A family wants answers from the foster care system after police charged a teen boy with killing his foster mother as well as a young man inside a foster home weeks earlier.

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What to Know

  • Xavier Johnson, 17, was arrested and charged in the murders of his foster mother, 64-year-old Renee Gilyard, as well as 20-year-old Jimmy Mao.
  • Johnson allegedly robbed and stabbed Mao while they were staying inside the same foster home back on Dec. 29.
  • More than three weeks later, Johnson allegedly killed Gilyard after being moved to her foster home.

Loved ones gathered in Southwest Philadelphia Thursday night to mourn a young father-to-be who police say was stabbed to death by a teen boy inside a foster home where they both lived.

“It’s sad that he is not with us anymore,” Niki Mao told NBC10. “All of this is like a movie but it’s real life.

Jimmy Mao, 20, was last seen alive inside a foster home on the 5800 block of Angora Terrace back on Dec. 29. Mao’s family told NBC10 he was playing online video games when he was heard arguing with someone in his room. Mao was then reported missing.

On Wednesday, more than three weeks later, Mao’s body was found inside a black duffel bag that had been thrown down a hill along the 1000 block of Cobbs Creek Parkway, about a block away from the foster home on Angora Terrace. Police said Mao had been stabbed in the face and neck.

On Thursday, 17-year-old Xavier Johnson was charged with Mao’s murder. Police said Johnson’s motive was robbery and he had stolen Mao’s PlayStation console, video games as well as money.

Johnson is also charged with murdering his foster mother, Renee Gilyard, who was found dead overnight Wednesday in her Germantown home. She was stabbed twice in the neck inside a bathroom. Police said Johnson stole Gilyard’s money and vehicle which crashed when officers captured the teen.

“Both Ms. Gilyard and Mr. Mao were brutally tortured and then murdered by Xavier Johnson,” Philadelphia Police Homicide Capt. Jason Smith said in a news conference Thursday afternoon. “It is my hope that his arrest will provide some degree of solace to their families, friends and communities.”

Jimmy Mao New Photo
Family Photo
A photo of Jimmy Mao.

Mao had a child on the way and was finishing his GED, according to his family. His sister told NBC10 English was his second language and he was only at the foster home on Angora Terrace for two weeks before his disappearance.

“He chose to be there so he could go to school,” Niki Mao said. “He was never in no drama. He don’t do drugs. He don’t drink. He don’t do none of that.”

Mao’s family said Johnson had arrived at the foster home at Angora Terrace two days after Mao arrived. NBC10 has been unable to contact the foster parent at the home.

“The next-door neighbor said there’s a lot of kids that go in and out and never last a month,” Muhammad Al Shabazz, Niki Mao's fiancé, told NBC10.

Johnson ended up living with Gilyard at her foster home earlier in the week before he allegedly killed her three days later.

A photo of Renee Gilyard.

Mao’s family said they felt the foster care system didn’t take his initial disappearance seriously enough. They’re now questioning how Johnson, who police said had five prior arrests for aggravated assault, was able to be moved to Gilyard’s foster home.

NBC10 reached out to DHS for details. A spokesperson said they were unable to discuss the specifics of the case due to confidentiality laws.

"We are heartbroken over the recent deaths," a spokesperson wrote. "Foster parents are unsung heroes, providing safe and loving homes for children in their care and service to the community. The losses we face today are unthinkable and we grieve along with the families and communities."

As police continue to investigate, Mao’s sister, who is also coping with the recent death of her mother, wants Johnson to be brought to justice.

“I just hope he burns in hell,” Niki Mao said.

Police also linked a third person to Johnson and Mao, 16-year-old Jacob Merritt-Richburg. Police believe the teen, who remains missing, has additional information regarding the murders.

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