Slain California teen’s sister to unknown killer: ‘Why her?’

By Gillian Flaccus, AP
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Slain CA teen’s sister urges killer to surrender

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. — The grieving older sister of a 17-year-old girl who was abducted and killed pleaded with the murderer Thursday to surrender and explain why the teen was targeted blocks from her high school.

“The person that did this, why? Why her?” said Elizabeth Lopez, as she stood outside the family home with her father, two little brothers and one of her three other little sisters. “I don’t want anybody to go through this, but why her? She had never done anything to anyone.”

Norma Lopez, an avid dancer and aspiring fashion designer, was abducted last week while walking to meet a friend after a summer school class. Her body was found five days later in a field less than three miles away.

“Just get the touch of heart and turn yourself in ’cause you killed her when we want her here home. Just turn yourself in. That’s all we want,” Elizabeth Lopez said as her sister Sonia, 16, embraced her.

Their father Martin Lopez said he believed he felt it in his heart when his daughter died.

“For me, the way I felt it, you feel it in the chest like a pressure, like a hit, like someone was hitting me,” he said in Spanish.

Elizabeth Lopez said her mother was heartbroken but relieved the body was found.

“She just wished she could have done something,” she said.

Investigators conducted vehicle checkpoints and questioned sex offenders as the hunt for the killer expanded.

Authorities approached drivers on a street outside the school, near the site where Norma Lopez’s belongings were found last week. Detectives hoped to find someone who saw the girl close to the time she was abducted.

Investigators were also questioning registered sex offenders in Moreno Valley, sheriff’s Sgt. Joseph Borja said. Fourteen registered sex offenders live within a 2-mile radius of the high school where Lopez was last seen, according to the Megan’s Law website.

The raven-haired teen disappeared July 15 after leaving a biology class at Valley View High School, where she would have been a senior this year. Norma Lopez was going to meet her younger sister at the nearby home of a friend, as she had done every day since summer school began, the family said.

When Norma didn’t show up, her younger sister and a friend went to look for her, found some of her personal items in a field 1½ blocks from the school and called authorities, said Borja, spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The field, a well-known neighborhood shortcut, is off a street that dead-ends at the base of boulder-studded hills cut with trails and Lopez cut across it often, her family said.

Searchers fruitlessly covered the area for several days before Lopez’s body was discovered Tuesday by a man clearing brush in another rural field more than two miles away.

Police want to speak with the driver of a green SUV seen speeding from the area the day Lopez vanished.

Authorities have declined to release her cause of death, citing the ongoing investigation, and would not say if she was sexually assaulted. Her decomposed body was identified using dental records.

Her father said investigators also took blood samples from Lopez’s sisters and mother and took hairs from her brush as part of the investigation

Lopez’s parents, who are originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, were being assisted by the Mexican consulate, said Carolina Zaragoza, head of the consulate’s local office.

Moreno Valley is a city of 186,000 about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

The teen’s disappearance drew wide attention across Southern California, where the high-profile abduction-murders of two other teenage girls in San Diego County — one jogging alone this year and the other walking to school in 2009 — led to a sex offender who ultimately admitted to the killings and is now imprisoned.

Lopez’s best friend Giovanna Gutierrez, 17, said she was supposed to meet Lopez at the high school for senior class pictures the day she disappeared.

“She didn’t have any problems. She was always full of laughter,” Gutierrez said.

AP Photographer Damian Dovarganes contributed to this report.

will not be displayed