NEW YORK – Police searched Sunday for the body of a woman whose 4-year-old daughter was found abandoned on a city street and said they were considering how to tell the girl that her mother is dead.
Authorities have been unable to find 26-year-old Monica Lozada-Rivaineira (search) since her daughter was discovered crying and shivering on a street in Queens. The girl told neighbors her father left her there and drove away.
Cesar Ascarrunz (search), 32, was charged Saturday with murdering his live-in girlfriend. Police say Ascarrunz killed Lozada-Rivaineira and dumped her corpse in a pile of trash on a Queens street corner.
Police were led to Ascarrunz by tips from the public after 4-year-old Valery Lozada (search) appeared on TV on Thursday. The child, her hair in pigtails, described her mother as looking "like a princess." Police ultimately used records from Valery's day care center to identify her mother.
"This child has captured the hearts of all New Yorkers," said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. "I hope she can grow up to lead a normal life."
Child welfare officials took the unusual step of putting her on television hoping that would produce more information about her identity.
Kevin Flood, a firefighter who gave the girl a drink and a fruit snack that night, said her hair was tousled as if she had just been awakened. But she showed no signs of abuse and neglect, authorities said.
"She was scared. She was crying," said Flood, 34. "She said her daddy had left her on the corner."
Valery was asking to see her mother, but authorities were waiting to break the news of her mother's death, said John Mattingly, commissioner of the city Administration for Children's Services. Dozens of people have volunteered to adopt her, he said.
"This little girl is as strong and capable and bright as she can be because of her mother," Mattingly said. "It makes us hopeful for the future ... that she will in the long run do well."
City officials were trying to contact family members and have already reached a female cousin of her mother's in New York, Mattingly said.
Ascarrunz also was charged with reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a child, child abandonment and evidence tampering, Brown said. If convicted on the murder charge, he faces 25 years to life in prison.
Lozada-Rivaineira was last seen at the apartment she shared with Ascarrunz late on Sept. 24, authorities said. According to a criminal complaint, Ascarrunz choked Lozada-Rivaineira to death in the apartment, put her body in a plastic bag and left it in the living room for two days.
On Sept. 26, he took her body from the apartment and dumped it in a pile of trash on a Queens street corner, the complaint said.
Investigators found traces of blood in the apartment. Ascarrunz told police he had cut Lozada-Rivaineira's throat to revive her after choking her, according to the complaint.
Ascarrunz had not been arraigned by late Saturday. A spokesman for the district attorney said he believed Ascarrunz did not have an attorney.