Published October 23, 2009
Detectives have interviewed all registered sex offenders living near a murdered Florida girl whose body was found buried in a mound of trash, but none of them are suspects in her death.
Clay County Sheriff's spokeswoman Mary Justino said Friday that investigators have talked to all 161 of the sex offenders residing within a 5-mile radius of 7-year-old Somer Thompson's house.
"Homes have been searched, properties have been searched," she told reporters. "We feel at this time that we do not have any suspects who are members of that group. That part of the procedure has been completed."
So far, police have not made an arrest in the first-grader's killing in Orange Park, a suburb of about 9,000 people just south of Jacksonville Naval Air Station.
Justino declined to comment on reports that detectives were focusing on a white van in the case.
"That is not something we're interested in divulging," she said. "We're not interested in corrupting this investigation."
Justino also said Friday that no witnesses have come forward to say they saw the little girl attacked or abducted.
Her body was found Wednesday by investigators sorting through tons of garbage in a Georgia landfill.
She vanished while walking home from her Orange Park school on Monday. Justino says investigators are collecting evidence from a vacant home along that road because the girl was last seen in front of it.
An autopsy has been completed, but authorities won't disclose their findings.
Her funeral will be held Tuesday in Orange Park.
Earlier Friday, Somer's mother Diena Thompson made a promise on national TV to the still-unknown killer: "We'll get you."
Thompson made tearful appearances on three network television morning shows the day after investigators identified her daughter's body.
"We're coming for you. We'll get you, and hopefully justice will be served," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Somer vanished on her one-mile walk home from school Monday in a heavily populated residential area in the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park. Searchers combed the area before investigators, following garbage trucks that collected trash Tuesday, spotted her lifeless legs in a landfill about 50 miles away.
Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler would not say if Somer had been sexually assaulted or answer other questions about the condition of the body.
The child's distraught mother vowed to not rest until the killer is tracked down.
"I want you to know that I will not sleep until this person is found," Thompson said. "I hope they get you and I hope they make you pay for a long, long time. You don't take from somebody. And you don't do this to a little baby and put my baby in the trash like she's nothing. That's not OK, this is not OK."
Thompson said she does not know any details of the investigation. She said she hopes the killer gets the death penalty.
"I hate him. I hate him," she said on the CBS "Early Show."
"Every morning when I get up, I just get up thinking it's just all a bad dream, and you come out and you see everything that everybody's brought and you know it's real," she said.
Missing child posters featuring Somer's face, with chubby cheeks and thick brown bangs, still plaster nearly every utility pole along the mile-long route from her elementary school to her home.
Investigators on Thursday searched a vacant home a couple of blocks into Somer's daily route, just past a wooded area and across the street from a playground and baseball diamonds.
"It's crazy to think something like this could happen here," said neighbor Andrew Carlson, 17, as he watched officers in protective white suits go in and out of the empty house and comb through a construction trash bin outside. Construction crews had been working on the house, which was damaged in a fire several months ago, he said.
Authorities say Somer squabbled with another child Monday and then walked ahead of the group of kids and was never seen again.
Justino said Friday that the argument was verbal and began at school.
"Somer became agitated by that," she said.
At an intersection about halfway into her walk, where Somer would have crossed the street and turned right on the road that led straight home, a purple ribbon — which supporters and family members have been wearing — was tied to the pole of a stop sign.
On Thursday evening, a steady flow of people — many of them parents, clutching the hands of young children — walked down that same road toward Somer's house to support her grieving family with a candlelight vigil.
Around a tree across the street from the girl's house, supporters had created a memorial, leaving hundreds of stuffed animals, flickering candles, signs and balloons.
Thompson came out with purple ribbons tied in her hair to thank the group who sang "Amazing Grace" and "You Are My Sunshine," then recited the Lord's Prayer.
"I wish I could hug every one of you," Thompson said. "I love every one of you."
Cries of support came from the crowd of about 200: "The community is behind you!" and "We're here for you. You're in our prayers."
The sheriff said the quick discovery of Somer's body, two days after she disappeared, may have saved precious evidence that could lead to her killer.
"Had we not done this tactic, I believe that body would have been buried beneath hundreds of tons of debris, probably would have gone undiscovered forever," Beseler said.
The girl disappeared in a heavily populated residential area about a mile from a stretch of fast-food restaurants and other businesses. Investigators will presumably try to pinpoint the trash bin or garbage can where she was dumped, based on the trash around her and the truck's pickup route.
"I fear for our community until we bring this person in. This is a heinous crime that's been committed," Beseler said. "And we're going to work as hard as we can to make this community safe."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.