Unidentified body found amid search for missing Southern California teenager

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unidentified body found amid search for Calif girl

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. — An unidentified body was found Tuesday several miles from where a 17-year-old girl disappeared on her way home from summer school last week.

Hours earlier, the family of 17-year-old Norma Lopez pleaded for her return and authorities offered a $35,000 reward for information.

Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Borja said the remains were not immediately identified as female or male. They were located in a semirural area along a long road lined with utility poles and with desert scrub on each side.

The reward was offered after efforts to find the girl stalled.

“If the person that took her is out there, please let her go,” sister Elizabeth Lopez told a news conference. “She hasn’t done anything to anyone to deserve this, at all.”

It’s the latest disappearance of a teenage girl to cause anguish in Southern California. Convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III is serving a life sentence for killing 17-year-old Chelsea King in February and 14-year-old Amber Dubois last year in neighboring San Diego County.

Norma Lopez vanished Thursday after attending a summer class at Valley View High School in Moreno Valley, in the inland region east of Los Angeles.

Personal items and signs of a struggle were discovered in a field the girl often used as a shortcut home. Police went door-to-door, and searchers using dogs covered nearby areas for days.

Authorities have not identified any suspects or persons of interest.

FBI investigators have talked to school friends and other acquaintances and continued to work with county investigators, said Don Roberts, the FBI’s supervisory special agent in Riverside.

“We have our own children, and it does not take much motivation for FBI agents and police officers to work day and night, as we are, to look for Norma and find clues that will lead to her recovery,” Roberts said.

Borja said investigators were acting on the presumption the girl was kidnapped.

“We contacted every friend, relative, everybody available that we can and there’s no information that would leave us to believe that she’s a runaway,” he said.

Borja urged the public to report suspicious strangers.

“We’re following up all leads, especially when it pertains to, you know, deviant behavior or behavior that’s not normal toward young females,” he said.

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