UPDATE: MORENO VALLEY – A body found in east Moreno Valley was identified today as a 17-year-old girl who was abducted on her way to a friend’s house last week.
Norma Angelica Lopez disappeared Thursday morning after finishing a summer class at Valley View High School and taking a shortcut through a field, en route to a residence in the 27300 block of Cottonwood Avenue, about 2 1/2 miles from where her body was located.
”The investigation has changed from an abducted person to a homicide,” Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Borja said during a news briefing outside the Moreno Valley Police Department.
”We haven’t stopped investigating every lead since we were first notified of the abduction. We will continue to follow every lead we have.”
The body, found just before 3 p.m. Tuesday in high grass off Theodore Street, near Dracaea Avenue, could not immediately be identified, and investigators relied on dental records to confirm it was Norma’s, according to Borja.
A property owner doing outdoor work on his tractor spotted the remains. The area where they were found is remote, with few houses. A commercial development lies about a half-mile from the site, across from a farming operation.
”That area was going to be searched eventually,” Borja said.
Borja confirmed another crime victim’s remains were found in the same general location within the last year, but did provide details about that case.
Borja would not disclose how Norma died, or whether she was sexually assaulted, noting it was ”very vital” to keep the information under wraps for the sake of the investigation.
Borja urged parents to be vigilant and ensure their children’s safety.
”There’s a murderer out there. Keep track of your children,” Borja said. ”It’s probably our worst nightmare that our kids can be taken from the street and killed.”
Borja asked that Norma’s immediate family be left alone and given time to grieve.
The missing girl’s belongings were found on the trail she was using, suggesting a struggle, according to Borja.
A green sport utility vehicle was seen speeding away from the area around the time of her disappearance. Borja said investigators would still like to know who was in the vehicle — even just to rule the occupants out as suspects.
A $35,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for killing the girl.
Friends and classmates of Norma gathered on steps outside Valley View High School tonight to share remembrances of her.
MORENO VALLEY – An autopsy and DNA testing were expected this morning on human remains found in east Moreno Valley, where a 17-year-old girl was believed to be abducted last week, authorities said.
The body, found Tuesday afternoon near rural Theodore Street, was so decomposed investigators could not determine its gender, let alone whether the remains were those of Norma Angelica Lopez, a Riverside County sheriff’s
MORENO VALLEY – Human remains were found today in a remote area of Moreno Valley, but investigators said it could take days to determine if the body is that of a 17-year-old girl who was abducted last week on her way to a friend’s house.
The body was so decomposed investigators could not determine its gender, let alone whether the remains were those of Norma Angelica Lopez, a sheriff’s sergeant told reporters tonight.
An autopsy and DNA testing will be conducted Wednesday morning, authorities said.
The body was found just before 3 p.m. by a property owner on Theodore Street, near Dracaea Avenue.
”Obviously we’re being very, very careful because it’s probably more than likely a homicide, and based on what information we do know or don’t know, we’re being very meticulous,” said Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Borja.
”As soon as they realized it was a dead body in the area, (deputies) backed out, and they work their way from outside to inside, so it may be hours before they actually come up to the body itself,” he added.
Norma disappeared Thursday morning after finishing a summer class at Valley View High School and took a shortcut across a field to a residence in the 27300 block of Cottonwood Avenue — about 2 1/2 miles from the spot where the remains were found this afternoon.
Borja said identification, cause of death and other details may take days to confirm.
Norma’s family had been notified as a precaution, according to Borja.
”They’re at home and they’re asking not to be bothered,” Borja said. ”There’s enough going on with their lives that they don’t need the additional stress.”
Borja said he did not know what clothing was on the dead body, nor could he describe what condition the remains were in, confirming only they were discovered in tall grass, on the west side of Theodore.
Few residences are on the road, which is just off the Moreno Valley (60) Freeway. There is a commercial development about a quarter-mile from where the body was dumped, as well as a farming operation.
During Borja’s briefing, about 40 people, some from the Moreno Valley Unified School District, gathered to find out what they could.
A $35,000 reward was offered today for information leading to Norma’s safe return.
During a news conference at the Moreno Valley Police Department, 18-year- old Elizabeth Lopez pleaded for her sister’s abductor to do the right thing. ”If the person that took her is out there, please let her go,” Lopez said. ”She hasn’t done anything to deserve this. Please have a touch of heart and let her go. We’ll be searching for her.”
A green sport utility vehicle was seen speeding away from the area around the time of her disappearance, but authorities have not been able to ascertain whether there’s a connection.
Los Angeles-based FBI Supervisory Special Agent Don Roberts said the agency was providing ”significant resources” in the search.
”We’re here every day and every night,” Roberts said. ”We’re not going anywhere until this case is solved. We’re manufacturing new leads from contacts in the neighborhood, school associates, friends and people who knew Norma.”
”This is a tragic scenario,” he added. ”Child abduction is every parent’s worst fear, including my own … We’ll leave no stone unturned and no lead uncovered until we find an answer to this mystery. We all hope that it leads to the safe recovery of Norma.”
Martin and Norma Lopez dismissed suggestions their daughter might have run away or left voluntarily.
”She is not a problem child,” her mother said in Spanish. ”If my child were a problem child, we wouldn’t have all these people helping us.”
Over the weekend, sheriff’s deputies, joined by about 200 community members, scoured the local area, searching for any clues as to what might have happened to Norma.
Borja said the missing girl’s belongings were found on the trail she was using, suggesting a struggle.
”It’s unknown at this point how many suspects may have been involved, but we’re following up every lead,” Borja said.
According to Borja, residents should be alert to any statements or unusual behavior that could help with the investigation.
”If you know somebody who is acting peculiarly in a neighborhood, doing things that make you nervous, let us know,” Borja said. ”We’re especially concerned with deviant behavior.”
Norma is about 5 feet 7 inches tall and 110 pounds. She was last seen wearing a black-and-white horizontal stripe sleeveless shirt, ”skinny” jeans and black shoes, according to the sheriff’s department.
Anyone with information on her whereabouts was urged to call (877) 242- 4345. To see a photo of Norma Lopez, go to http://www.riversidesheriff.org/press/mvs10-0715-1.asp
”It’s like I lost a little sister, a little sister that was very dear to me,” Melanie Villareal told KCAL9 during a candlelight vigil. ”And even though I’m not part of that family, she touched everybody here, as you can see.”
Anyone with information on the case was urged to call (877) 242-4345.