The bound body of 10-year-old Anthony Michael Martinez--pulled naked from a sun-blasted desert ravine--was identified after an autopsy Sunday, ending a nationwide hunt for the abducted child but renewing the search for the kidnapper police now believe killed him.
"It can't stop here," Beaumont resident Carol Smith vowed. "This is just the beginning."
Authorities used dental records to confirm that the body a federal ranger discovered Saturday in Berdoo Canyon was Tony. The boy had been kidnapped at knifepoint while playing in an alley outside his Beaumont home April 4. His badly decomposed body, bound around the ankles and wrists with duct tape, was lying just off a rugged road in the canyon, half-covered with rocks.
Circling vultures had led the Bureau of Land Management ranger to the spot.
"This is the worst thing that has ever happened in our town," Beaumont Police Lt. John Acosta said.
Saying they did not want to compromise their investigation, authorities released few details about the case. They would not say whether Tony's body appeared to have been molested. And they would not divulge the cause of death, although they said it was obvious from looking at the body.
The Riverside County district attorney's office has already assigned a prosecutor to the case. Federal and local authorities have 100 investigators working two shifts around the clock.
"We know we're going to get this guy," said Riverside County Sheriff Larry Smith.
But officials acknowledged Sunday in a news conference at the Riverside County Sheriff's headquarters that they have no solid leads, even though they have received nearly 4,000 tips since publicizing the abduction two weeks ago.
"We don't have any idea who the suspects are. Everything is just speculation," said Mark Lohman, a spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
Authorities believe the crime was the work of a practiced sexual predator.
Certainly, the abductor had a well thought-out plan: He approached five children and asked them to help him find his lost kitten, holding out a photo of a cat and a dollar bill as inducements. When two of the children ran away in fear, the kidnapper pulled a knife out of his waistband, grabbed Tony and fled in a white car with red pinstripes and no hubcaps.
The other children described the suspect as a white male of slender build, with blue eyes and a mustache. Police estimate his age at 25 to 35 years old and his height at 5 feet, 8 inches. "This is obviously . . . a very dangerous criminal," Smith said.
Aided by the FBI, Riverside County deputies spent most of Saturday seeking hints about the suspect's identity in Berdoo Canyon, a barren area about 70 miles east of Beaumont that is a popular teenage party spot.
As gunshots echoed in the canyon's open shooting range and tourists rattled past on their way back from Joshua Tree National Park, investigators collected the shell casings that littered the terrain and photographed every possible clue. They even brought in an archeologist, saying that they hoped he would look at the scene from a different perspective.
After studying the makeshift grave--which lay about 100 feet from the nearest road--authorities could not immediately determine whether Tony's body had been covered deliberately or whether rocks had tumbled from the cliff above onto his legs.
The parts of his body that had been exposed, including his head, had decomposed so severely that the bones were visible. With the body in that condition, medical examiners could not determine how long Tony had been dead. Their only conclusion: He could have been killed as little as two days or as long as two weeks ago.
The confirmation of Tony's death shocked the small farming town of Beaumont, which had pulled together in an astounding display of community spirit after the abduction. When a group of about 20 volunteers heard the news outside the civic center Sunday afternoon, most broke down, their resolute optimism dissolving.
One man slammed his hand on his truck. Another kicked a chair across the lawn. A teenager took off running. Others sobbed.
But after giving into their grief for a few moments, many of the volunteers rallied with a fierce new goal: to find the killer and make him pay.
"OK, we're here to pick up some more fliers, so let's pick them up," 35-year-old Lori Stephenson said, squaring her shoulders after a short, anguished cry.
Carol Smith, a local business owner, echoed that determination. "Anthony's death is going to serve a purpose," she said. "It's going to keep the rest of the kids safe."
Times correspondent Diana Marcum contributed to this story.