The Tannery Arts Center sprang from the utopian ideal of creating a sanctuary for artists and their families — one intended to shield painters and sculptors from Santa Cruz's rising rents, while providing a cocoon around the creative community's many children.
But the creative Eden could not keep out a parent's worst nightmare. Police on Tuesday arrested a 15-year-old neighbor of Madyson "Maddy" Middleton, saying the boy lured the 8-year-old girl into his family's apartment Sunday and killed her, then hid the body in a dumpster-sized recycling bin.
Many residents had held out hope that Maddy, a vivacious girl last seen riding a scooter Sunday afternoon, would be found alive. The discovery of her body Monday night was a stunning blow to many in the complex.
To learn on Tuesday that another resident was suspected in the killing was too much.
"We're just devastated. These are two of our kids, and one is dead and one has been taken away. And it's horrible. It's just horrible," said resident Yasmina Porter, a dance professor at Cabrillo College. Her children, ages 11 and 13, played with both the victim and the suspect, she said.
"From the community's standpoint, we mostly feel like these are our babies," Porter said. "This is the most horrible thing you can imagine."
Authorities said they believe Maddy willingly went into the boy's apartment, where they were alone.
"She was 8 years old," said Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel. "I think she had a reasonable amount of trust in him."
Vogel said police were waiting for forensic results and did not give a cause of death.
Authorities did not identify the suspect because he is a minor. Shocked residents described him as "sweet" and said he was well-known for his prowess with a yo-yo.
Porter said the suspect was quiet and polite, and that his mother prepared food and invited neighbors over during holidays.
The eight-acre complex resembles a modern college campus — one especially welcoming for children who play, paint sidewalks with chalk and ride bicycles on its landscaped grounds.
It opened at the site of the historic Salz Tannery, which once supplied more than half of all saddle leather produced in California. The center's 100 housing units were completed in 2009, funded by the Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency and a nonprofit developer.
Denise Kiser Shaw said she was taking a class Sunday afternoon and remembered seeing Maddy wearing a purple dress and riding the silver scooter.
"She was going back and forth on her scooter," Shaw said. "She would peek into the door while we were working."
By the end of the class, there was a commotion in the courtyard about the missing girl.
"We knew that there was something terribly wrong," Shaw said. "It was like, it must be some stranger who grabbed her."
Shaw called the complex an oasis for artists that "feels safe."
"The children are out like little butterflies," Shaw said. "It's a contained area … it's like, OK, you stay here in the courtyard and you ride around and you wait for your friend."
Maddy was last seen about 5:05 p.m. Sunday on surveillance video. Her disappearance prompted a frantic search. The massive manhunt drew volunteers from among the dozens of printmakers, ceramacists and other artists who live in the housing complex.
Then at 7:55 p.m. Monday, a little over 24 hours after she disappeared, a Santa Cruz police detective discovered the girl's body at the bottom of the recycling dumpster, which had already been searched by
volunteers. "The suspect had gone to great lengths to conceal the body," police said.
The boy was standing near the dumpster, immediately drawing the attention of investigators, who believe he was watching them as they searched, Vogel said. He was detained and later arrested in connection with her death.
Police said they have evidence tying him directly to Maddy.
The boy could now face several charges, some of which could be filed against him as an adult, Santa
Cruz Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Rosell said. Detectives interviewed the boy early Tuesday and believe he acted alone.
On Tuesday, residents posted a somber message on Facebook.
"We are in mourning," they wrote. "Please hold us in your hearts. We ask for help protecting the privacy of our families and the Tannery community. This is an incredibly painful process. We are so deeply grateful for the help and support of the Santa Cruz Police, volunteer groups, and concerned citizens. For now, we mourn and ask that you give us time and space to mourn."
Porter expressed sympathy for both the suspect and the family of the slain girl.
"I want to make sure people don't lose sight of the fact that this is our baby," Porter said. "If he did this, it is still a horror. And we need to figure out how to help everyone and especially Maddy's mom."
By midafternoon, a makeshift memorial had formed at the arts campus. Mourners formed a heart with bouquets of white roses and orange daisies, and stuffed animals — bears, puppies, kittens, a pair of rabbits, a penguin.
Some people brought flowers. Others a card. Then a candle.
One note was decorated with small hearts and flowers. Written in careful cursive — with purple, pink and aqua marker — was a message: "Rest in peace Madyson. Angel of Santa Cruz."
Lin reported from Santa Cruz; Rocha and Cart from Los Angeles.