The body of a 9-year-old Santa Ana girl was found in a trash can near the Griffith Park Observatory early Tuesday, 11 hours after a man abducted her as she was walking home from school.
The grim discovery by a transient searching for recyclable cans ended a lengthy house-to-house search for Nadia Puente, who had been strangled and sexually molested, police said. Investigators said they had no suspects.
Nadia, a fourth-grade student at Diamond Elementary School in Santa Ana, was walking to her nearby home at about 2:10 p.m. when a man in a small, gray sedan stopped to talk to her, fellow students told police. The students said she got into the car and drove away with the man, described as curly haired, in his early or mid-30s and wearing a goatee.
She was abducted little more than half a mile from where another 9-year-old girl, Patricia Lopez, was kidnaped in June, 1987. The body of Patricia, who was killed by a blow to the head, was later found in a drainpipe leading to the Santa Ana River.
Police said they doubted that the two cases are related. “We’re not ruling it out, but it appears highly unlikely,” spokeswoman Maureen Thomas said.
Nadia’s parents--Armando and Sara Puente--notified police at 5:30 p.m. Monday that their daughter was missing. Officers said they immediately launched a search of the neighborhood, using bloodhounds and helicopters. Flyers with a description and photograph of the missing girl were handed out and roadblocks were set up in an effort to locate witnesses.
At the Puente home Tuesday, more than 30 family members gathered to comfort the parents. Nadia’s mother, Sara, 27, said she was “suffering and praying that they’ll get whoever did this to my daughter.
"(The murderer) destroyed my life by taking her away, she was everything in this house,” Puente said of her eldest child and only daughter.
Crying softly, Sara Puente said she wanted to share her pain with other mothers so they would “watch out for their kids. . . . No matter what you do, no matter what you think you can do, there is always danger in the streets.
“No matter how you teach your daughter, there’s always some psycho out there.”
Puente said her daughter was a smart, friendly and energetic girl. “She wanted to be a teacher or a writer when she grew up.”
Diane Thomas, a spokeswoman at Diamond School, described Nadia as a good student and a respected member of the Student Council--"very responsible, very well thought of, just a fine girl.”
She said notices would be sent home with the students advising parents “that it’s natural for children to have concerns and they should take time to listen to children’s concerns and reassure them.” In addition, four psychologists were made available at the school to meet with the children and their parents.
The discovery of the body in Griffith Park followed the finding by hikers on Monday of the skeletal remains of a couple who apparently had killed themselves near the observatory in a satanic pact.
“I get a chill now every time I hear that place mentioned,” said Los Angeles Police Detective Sam Jacobellis, who was involved in the investigation of both cases.