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Slain Girl’s Kin Arrive for Rites After Delay at Border

Times Staff Writer

After a wait of more than 26 hours at the U.S.-Mexican border, two of Nadia Puente’s relatives arrived Friday in Santa Ana to a tearful reunion with family members preparing for the funeral of the little girl, who was found murdered Tuesday.

“Here they are,” exclaimed Sara Puente, Nadia’s mother, as Nadia’s paternal grandfather and paternal great-aunt arrived at the Puente home in the 2400 block of West Pomona Street, where about 30 friends and relatives waited.

Neither Jose Puente, 59, nor Guadalupe Puente, 48, had ever been to the United States, relatives said. They had journeyed from Colima, their hometown on the west coast of Mexico, about 1,500 miles south of Tijuana, for the 9-year-old girl’s funeral.

Nadia was abducted as she walked home from Diamond Elementary School on Monday afternoon by a man in a silver car with black stripes, schoolmates have told police. The fourth-grader’s body was found early Tuesday morning, stuffed in a trash bin near Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles.

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Preliminary autopsy results indicated that death was from asphyxiation due to pressure against the chest, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. There also was evidence of sexual molestation, a coroner’s office spokesman said.

On Friday afternoon, a grateful Sara Puente grabbed Jose Vargas, the Santa Ana Police Department’s Hispanic affairs officer, who drove to Tijuana to pick up the family members.

“My husband and I are so happy,” Sara Puente said.

Jose and Guadalupe Puente, who flew from Colima to Tijuana, arrived there about 2 p.m. Thursday and tried to enter the United States, Vargas said.

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But neither had proper immigration papers and carried only their identification cards from work, he said. They had to spend the night with a cousin in Tijuana.

On Friday, Vargas drove to Tijuana in an unmarked police car to pick them up. Two of Nadia’s uncles went along.

“Nothing to it. It really wasn’t that hard,” said Vargas, who has made similar trips in the past. “It was all worth it.”

Vargas said Jose and Guadalupe Puente, who were issued visas good for one week, will attend a Mass for Nadia on Wednesday at Our Lady of Guadalupe (Delhi) in Santa Ana.

“The INS is very helpful in these situations,” Vargas said, adding that the visas can be extended if necessary.

“They’ll do it if it’s a good reason,” he said. “I’m going to take them to the local INS office to request a few more days.” Vargas added that he also would take the grandfather and aunt back to Tijuana.

Meanwhile, as the search for the killer of Nadia continued Friday, police said the number of calls to a special bilingual hot line set up after her death had dwindled.

Police have received “some very good information” from callers, Santa Ana Police spokeswoman Maureen Thomas said, adding that detectives are trying to “run down leads” provided by those calls.

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Thomas said that while the quantity of calls had tapered off by Friday, the hot line will continue to operate over the weekend. The number is (714) 647-5495.

Also, the neighborhood surrounding Greenville and Pomona streets, where Nadia was abducted, has “been pretty much saturated with flyers,” Thomas said.


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