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 L.A. 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 child 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 of age, 4 feet 5 inches tall, and weighed just 55 pounds. He said there were no visible signs of malnutrition or mistreatment.
Aside from the pink shirt, she wore black and white loungewear pants 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 don’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 rendition of the girl in the hope someone will 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.
A 2016 Los Angeles Times examination of child homicides found that there were more than 400 since Jan.1, 2000 across Los Angeles County. Many of the children were victims of abuse or violence in their homes, and most died at the homes of parents or guardians.
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 are 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 kills a child, the attacker often buries or conceals the body.
Calling the child’s death a horrible tragedy, Hoglund said, “these are hardest cases to handle.” He said it is 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.