Missing girl found at warehouse; police search for suspect

Monday April 26, 2004
By JOHN KEKIS
Associated Press Writer
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) While police continued to investigate the abduction
of a 5-year-old girl, a neighbor breathed a big sigh of relief that the
child had been found alive.

“They say she’ll be OK,” 76-year-old Maria Dimitrov said Monday as she
stood on the front steps of her house just two doors away from the
victim’s home. “Children are angels. My great-granddaughter plays with
her.”

The victim, who disappeared Saturday evening while on the way to visit a
friend just two blocks away, was found Sunday afternoon bound with duct
tape and under a tarpaulin at an abandoned warehouse about seven miles
from her home.

The girl spent the night at University Hospital in Syracuse as a medical
precaution and for safety reasons and returned to her home Monday
afternoon. Hospital officials said she suffered mild frostbite from heavy
rain and temperatures that dropped into the mid-30s Saturday night.

Police called her recovery a case of divine intervention. The building
where she was found is located on an isolated two-lane road that is home
to about 10 trucking depots and four residences just a short distance
from Hancock International Airport and the New York State Thruway.

A potential buyer of the warehouse found the victim as he was looking at
the site in suburban DeWitt. The man, who did not want to speak with the
media, looked under the tarp when he heard the girl crying, police said.

“If you don’t believe in God, this is something that will make you
believe,” Sgt. Tom Connellan said. “She was found solely by chance.
We’re giving her some space. She’s been through an extremely traumatic
event.”

“I think everybody was greatly relieved to learn she was found alive,”
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said.
“Historically and statistically, it is not usually the case that young
children who are abducted wind up alive.”

Syracuse police had cordoned off the area around the building as they
continued their investigation. Area residents told police about a
suspicious older model white four-door sedan seen driving slowly in the
area on Sunday.

Fitzpatrick said the girl had been sexually assaulted, and police were
looking for a thin, white, possibly Hispanic man in his 40s. The suspect
is balding, had a mustache, and is considered a sexual predator, police
said.

“This is the type of crime that someone just doesn’t do,” Connellan
said. “We’re really going to look hard at repetitive offenders.”

According to a Web site maintained by the New York State Division of
Criminal Justice Services, most of the 31 Level 3 sex offenders listed in
the zip code where the girl lives reside in a high-rise building a few
blocks from the scene of the abduction. A Level 3 offender is a person
who has been convicted of a sex crime and is at the greatest risk of
committing another.

The girl’s mother told police her daughter left home around 6 p.m.
Saturday. The mother called the friend’s house to see if her daughter had
arrived safely and alerted police when the girl turned up missing.

A neighborhood child found the girl’s scooter a short while later on a
storm grate only a block from her home.

“You never know,” Dimitrov said. “I couldn’t stop crying, and I
couldn’t sleep.”

Syracuse Fire Department divers searched for the girl in the storm drain
where the scooter was found. A state police helicopter also searched the
area with an infrared camera, while police and neighbors combed nearby
Schiller Park.

Authorities sent the victim’s photograph to the National Center for
Missing & Exploited Children but did not issue an Amber Alert because the
disappearance was not known to be an abduction at the time.

“We were hoping for the best, expecting the worst,” assistant district
attorney Rick Trunfio said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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