Article Last Updated: Friday, February 28, 2003 - 11:21:23 PM PST
Body ID'd as Norwalk girl
DNA: Remains of Jackeline Saavedra, 6, were found near 5 Freeway in November.
By Neda Raouf, Staff writer
NORWALK Decomposed remains found tied in a plastic bag alongside the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in November have been identified as a 6-year-old girl last seen 18 months ago, authorities said Friday.
"Many clues were offered to the Sheriff's Department regarding her whereabouts. And many leads were followed to no avail,' said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, standing outside of the Norwalk Sheriff's Station. "We will find the murderer of Jackeline Saavedra.'
DNA samples were used to identify the girl. She was last seen Aug. 24, 2001, playing in the parking lot of her apartment building at 13811 Shoemaker Ave.
Investigators and coroner's officials were still trying to determine how the child died. The condition of the body made the task more difficult.
"The remains were badly decomposed and there wasn't much to go on,' said Whittier Police Detective Kent Miller.
Caltrans workers found the body three miles from the girl's home on Nov. 23 in the 13700 block of Firestone Boulevard which runs alongside the 5 Freeway in Santa Fe Springs.
Officials also declined to discuss specifics of the autopsy, or if she was wearing the same clothes when she disappeared, saying that they had to be careful not to jeopardize the investigation.
"We have (a) murdered child, apparently, and we have a suspect who's at large,' Baca said. "For us to speculate is not going to (solve) this case like the court requires.'
Officials said they are still interested in talking to an English-speaking Latino in his 30s seen by witnesses on a city bus with the girl near Rosecrans Boulevard and Shoemaker Avenue at 3 p.m. the day she vanished. Bloodhounds were alerted to her scent on the bus.
Despite saying Jackeline was murdered, Baca and other officials later said they are not formally classifying the investigation as a homicide.
"Because of the nature of (the death), homicide investigators are involved, but they're not calling it a murder until they have more details,' said Deputy Ramiro Juarez.
Whittier PD's Miller also said more information was needed and that the death could have been accidental or even of natural causes although those scenarios are unlikely.
Craig Harvey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, also said that Jackeline was identified through a new state Department of Justice program. Jackeline is the third match and the first child to be matched, officials said.
The Missing Persons DNA Program requires that when a missing persons report is filed, those who file it are required to provide a DNA specimen; a coroner then sends a DNA specimen of the body to the Department of Justice when it is found, Harvey said.
In a timeline provided at the press conference, officials said that the Los Angeles County coroner's office performed an autopsy shortly after the body was found in November. Officials extracted a sample from muscle tissue and a rib, Miller said.
In December, Whittier police received notice that there may be a connection with the Norwalk case.
The coroner's investigation was completed by Dec. 11 and officials were requested to have a sample sent to the Department of Justice lab.
Officials collected DNA samples from Jackeline's parents swabs from their mouths at the Norwalk station in late January, which were then forwarded to the DOJ..
On Thursday, the DOJ finally announced a match between DNA taken from the little girl's body and her parents and that the body was indeed the same missing 6-year-old girl.
The parents were then notified that same day, they said.
Jackeline's mother, Maria Saavedra, could not be reached for comment.
"The mother is very traumatized,' Detective Mark Guerrero said.
Maria Saavedra has been struggling financially and is living in different places but has no permanent address, he said.
The girl's father lives in North Carolina and could not be reached for comment.
Norwalk Sheriff's Station Captain Warren Asmus said officials worked hard to find Jackeline since she first was reported missing and looked beyond the city's borders. Helicopters were used, fliers were handed out, hundreds of witnesses were interviewed, bloodhounds were used and a 24-hour tip hotline was set up, he said.
Investigators spent the week following her disappearance searching with more than 100 deputies, Explorers, academy recruits, city public safety officers and volunteers, to no avail.
"The search was very extensive,' Asmus said.
A $10,000 reward has been offered by the city of Norwalk, and officials are looking into setting up a relief fund to help Jackeline's family, Asmus said.
Authorities asked anyone with more information on the case to call the Sheriff's Department at (323) 890-5500 or the Whittier Police Department at (562) 945-8250 .
Copyright © 2003 Long Beach Press Telegram
Los Angeles Newspaper Group