The girl’s body was bent into a black roll-away duffel bag, her head and torso slightly protruding. She was dumped onto an embankment along a popular equestrian trail in light brush.
She hadn’t been there long — less than 48 hours — before a worker for Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation clearing the landscape on the Hacienda Heights trail uncovered the girl’s remains Tuesday morning. Her tiny body was clad in a pink long-sleeve shirt proclaiming “Future Princess Hero.”
“It’s a sad moment for the department, for the community, and we’re going to do our best to figure out” what happened to the girl, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday as he stood next to a sketch of the child.
Investigators are still working to determine the identity of the girl and the cause of death.
“It is a suspicious-death investigation. There were no obvious signs of trauma,” sheriff’s homicide Lt. Scott Hoglund said. “We don’t have any idea who this child is.” An autopsy is slated in the next few days, he said.
The girl was black, between 8 and 13 years old, 4 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 55 pounds. He said there were no visible signs of malnutrition or mistreatment.
Sheriff’s officials on Thursday said there was no link between the dead girl and a missing 13-year-old girl from Lancaster.
Homicide investigators carefully rechecked with those who had provided information on the missing girl — identified as Skylar Mannie — and were certain that the two cases are not related, according to Nicole Nishida, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman.
Skylar is described as 5 feet 5 and 130 pounds, a foot taller and more than twice the weight of the girl found on the Hacienda Heights trail.
The dead girl was found wearing black and white loungewear pants, in addition to the pink shirt, but no shoes.
The trail is a short drive into the hills south of the Pomona Freeway. The body was found at the bottom of an embankment just east of the 3400 block of Hacienda Boulevard.
Hoglund said someone likely saw something between late Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning when her body was found. “There is a turnout on Hacienda Boulevard just south of Colima Road,” he said.
Hoglund said the body was found about 120 yards from the beginning of the trail. He said his detectives didn’t know if the bag was left at that spot or pushed off the embankment.
“At this point, we don’t have any leads,” Hoglund said. “We are looking for any type of witnesses that may have been traveling in that area, that may have seen a vehicle pulled over to the side. We are looking for any lead.”
A department sketch artist produced a rendering of the girl in the hope someone would recognize her.
Investigators have reached out to the Los Angeles County Department of Children & Family Services, missing-child groups and school districts across the region, Hoglund said.
Dan Scott, a retired L.A. County Sheriff’s sergeant who was involved in dozens of child abuse and death investigations, said the circumstances in this one were unusual. “It is extremely rare to see a child’s body dumped,” he said. “I cannot recall one in recent years in the region.”
Scott said that even when a relative killed a child, the attacker often buried or concealed the body.
Calling the child’s death a horrible tragedy, Hoglund said, “these are hardest cases to handle.” He said it was unclear whether the girl was dead or alive when she was squeezed into the bag.
Hoglund would not say whether forensic technicians recovered any fingerprints or DNA from the bag that might give clues to the child’s identity or the person who dumped the bag. Investigators on Wednesday sealed coroner’s records in the investigation from public review.