The body of 7-year-old Sara Nan Hodges, the object of a three-day search with police dogs and helicopters, was found Sunday afternoon in a house five doors away from her Newhall home, authorities said.
A 14-year-old Newhall boy was arrested late Sunday and was being held at the Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s station for investigation of murder, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies said.
Terry Horner, a visitor to the house on Alderbrook Drive where the body was found, said the home’s owner, Olga Kaczmar, found the body beneath a water bed mattress while she searched for the source of a sickening odor.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Catherine Neilsen said Kaczmar rented the room where the body was found to the mother of the boy who was later arrested.
The boy, whose name was not released, was sitting on the mattress when the body was found, Horner, 27, of Newhall, said. He said the boy had set up a fan in the room to blow the odor out an open window.
“He (the boy) was crying and he said, ‘I didn’t do it,’ ” Horner said.
Horner and other neighbors said the boy and his mother had lived at the Kaczmar home about a month. He had previously lived in Florida with his father, but had come back “because he got into some trouble,” according to a neighbor who asked not to be identified.
Sheriff’s officials would not confirm all of Horner’s account.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Barry Sandstrom confirmed that the body was found under a bed after adults smelled an odor.
Coroner’s officials said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death and whether the child had been sexually molested.
Sara had been living on Alderbrook Drive for about six weeks with her mother, Linda; her 16-year-old sister, Tisha, and her mother’s boyfriend. They shared a home with Mary Alexander and her three children.
The girl was last seen at 2 p.m. Thursday, playing with neighborhood children in front of her home. Her family reported her missing about 8 p.m. and a search began later that night.
Mary Alexander’s daughter, Jessica, said the blond, blue-eyed first-grader had told playmates that she was going to Kaczmar’s home to ride horses.
Wondered About Odor
Horner and Kaczmar attended church and went to brunch Sunday before returning to the home. They commented several times to each other about the odor in the house.
“We smelled it . . . and nobody thought it was a dead body,” Horner said.
Pastor Robert Bloom of the nearby Village Church helped comfort Tisha, Sara’s 16-year-old sister, after the body was discovered. Bloom said Sara’s mother and other family members had secluded themselves in a trailer behind the Alexander home.
“She cried in my arms a long, long time,” Bloom said of Tisha. “I told her that really, a thing like this takes God and time to heal.”
On Friday, about 80 deputies, the Santa Clarita Search and Rescue team, Explorer Scouts and a sheriff’s mounted posse scoured a two-square-mile wilderness area near the missing child’s home. Searchers on the ground used three teams of bloodhounds, while others in a helicopter employed a high-intensity searchlight in a vain attempt to find the girl in the brushy terrain. The effort was called off Friday night.
Since then, deputies had gone door-to-door inquiring about Sara’s whereabouts and searching homes. The child’s picture was printed on flyers distributed throughout the Newhall area and concern over her disappearance mounted through the weekend.
Deputy Dan Cox said detectives had “in all likelihood” questioned the residents of the home where Sara’s body was found.
Sara’s parents are divorced. Her father, Wallace Scott Mann, who lives in Ventura County, was in seclusion with the rest of the family at the Alexander home Sunday night.
Despite the disappearance, the child’s family had hoped to be able to welcome her home with an Easter basket bulging with holiday favors and candy.
But the sight of the basket early Sunday had caused her mother to break down crying.
“We made her an Easter basket, because we want her to come home,” her sister, Tisha, had said several hours before the body was found. But after the tears began, Tisha said, she hid the basket in a closet--"where my Mom can’t see it.”