Friday, October 23, 2009

Tragic end to Somer Thompson search: Sheriff says body in landfill tentatively ID'd as Florida girl

tragedy with the discovery
The search for a 7-year-old Florida girl appears to have ended in tragedy with the discovery of her body in a Georgia landfill.

Authorities tentatively identified the body Thursday as that of Somer Thompson, based on clothing and a birthmark. Somer had been missing since Monday.


"I'm still holding out hope this is not Somer," Somer's aunt, Laura Holt, told the Associated Press Wednesday night, her voice cracking.

"I don't think they deserve to live," Holt said. "I don't think there's anything worse that a person can do - to kill a child and dump her in the dump like a piece of trash?"

Investigators followed garbage trucks from the neighborhood where Somer disappeared to a landfill in Folkston, Ga.,near the Florida border. They searched through 100 tons of refuse before finding the body, Beseler said.

An FBI forensic unit is helping process evidence from the landfill, about 48 miles from where the girl disappeared.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation planned an autopsy Thursday.

Holt said family members were going through an agonizing wait for autopsy results.

Beseler declined to discuss what evidence police have recovered or whether investigators believe the crime was committed by one or more people.

He said police have questioned more than 70 registered sex offenders in the area. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show 161 offenders live in a 5-mile radius of Somer's home.

"I fear for our community until we bring this person in," Beseler said of the killer. "This is a heinous crime...and we're going to work as hard as we can to make this community safe."

Somer disappeared on her mile-long walk home from school in Orange Park, Fla.

Angry that her sister told her to stop arguing with a playmate, she ran ahead of the group and was never seen again. Her disappearance triggered a countywide search involving helicopters, dogs and volunteers walking arm-to-arm through wooded areas.

Before the grim discovery, Somer's father, Sam Thompson, of Graham, N.C., pleaded for her safe return.

"Somer, your daddy Sam loves you unconditionally. Stay strong and don't give up the fight or the hope that we're going to be a family again. I love you," he said.

Thompson was staying at an undisclosed family member's home to get avoid the crowd of about 150 people gathered across the street from mother Diena Thompson's home, some crying and others clutching their children tightly.

Mourners placed flowers under a tree in a makeshift memorial to the little girl.

"We are all devastated," said Tonya Jennings, 61, a grandmother who lives three doors away. "I knew her." Jennings was with her two granddaughters, Nina Guitierez, 9, and Aria Michaels, 8, who attend Grove Park Elementary School with Somer.

"We will need to be more vigilant. There are pedophiles everywhere in the area," Jennings said.

John Latavia, 43, said his children attended school with Somer.

"All we can do is pray and come together," he said.

Orange Park is a suburb of Jacksonville just south of Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The area where the girl disappeared is a heavily populated residential area with homes, apartment complexes and condominiums.

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