Local News

Body found in Georgia may be missing girl

Posted October 21, 2009 8:38 a.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2009 10:46 p.m. EDT

Amber Alert

— Authorities say they have not identified a child's body they found Wednesday in a landfill while searching for a missing 7-year-old girl. Family members were hopeful the girl is still alive, though neighbors in the girl's community feared the worst.

The partially covered body of the child was found in a Georgia landfill near the Florida state line, after investigators followed garbage trucks leaving from the neighborhood where Somer Thompson disappeared Monday.

Sheriff Rick Beseler said investigators searched through 100 tons of garbage before finding the body. He first said the body was female, then corrected himself to say he could not confirm the gender.

Few other details about the body, such as a possible cause of death, were released. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation planned an autopsy Thursday.

Somer vanished on her mile-long walk home from school Monday in Orange Park. She was squabbling with another child, and her sister told her to stop. The girl got upset, walked ahead of the group and wasn't seen again.

"You can't see that much of the leg. Certainly that'll be something that we'll be trying to gather right away. Our detectives are still in route to Folkston," Beseler said.

The girl's aunt, Laura Holt, said family members were going through an agonizing wait to find out whose body was found.

"I'm still holding out hope this is not Somer," Holt said Wednesday night, her voice cracking.

Earlier, Sam Thompson, the girl's father said from his home in Graham, N.C., said he would like to get his daughter back and wouldn't worry about her abductor.

“For anybody who has taken my daughter, I would just beg them and plead to their sense of humanity that they would let my daughter come home,” Sam Thompson said.

Sam Thompson, who is estranged from Somer's mother, lives in Graham.

"I can't describe how that feels. It feels like somebody just took the life out of you," he said before authorities said they found the body.

That news was an awful blow to her brother, Holt said. He nearly had a breakdown not long after, when someone claiming to be part of the search team in Florida told him they had positively identified the child as his daughter because of a birthmark. The claim was quickly found to be false after a call to the sheriff, she said.

"My brother just fell apart. He thought he was having a heart attack," she said. Thompson is now staying at an undisclosed family member's home to get away from the "circus" in front of his house.

Earlier Wednesday, Somer's mother went on all three national network morning news shows with a tearful appeal for the child's return.

"Somer, you're not in trouble – if you're scared, just come home," Dina Thompson said on NBC's "Today" show. "And if somebody has her, please, please bring her back to us. She belongs with her family."

"She's got a twin and he's lost without her," Thompson said in a later news conference.

The Justice Coalition and First Coast Crime Stoppers are offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

The second-grader is white, 3 foot 5 inches tall and weighs 65 pounds. She had brown hair tied in a pony tail with a red bow and was carrying a purple Hannah Montana backpack and lunch box.

The Amber Alert was issued at 9 a.m. Tuesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The alert was not immediately issued for Somer because her disappearance wasn't witnessed and there was no description of a vehicle.