State News

Girl found, search for killer escalates

Posted October 22, 2009 11:16 a.m. EDT
Updated February 11, 2010 7:02 p.m. EST

— Authorities are calling the death of 7-year-old Somer Thompson a homicide.

Clay County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Mary Justino said dental records confirmed that the body of a small girl found in a Georgia landfill is that of the child reported missing Monday.

Somer vanished on her mile-long walk home from school in Orange Park, Fla., a suburb of Jacksonville.

She lived there with her mother. The girl's father, Sam Thompson, lives in Graham, N.C.

Justino did not say how the girl was killed, but she said the girl's death was a homicide. She said authorities have not located a suspect.

A mobile forensic unit was looking for evidence at a home at 1080 Gano Ave. near where Somer was last seen by other children. The home, which was the site of a fire months ago, is vacant, Justino said. The homeowners gave permission for the search.

An autopsy was performed Thursday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Savannah after the body was found near the Florida state line.

Investigators followed garbage trucks leaving the neighborhood where the child disappeared to the Georgia landfill.

Somer's father and other family members were "torn up" after hearing the news, aunt Laura Holt said. She hopes authorities will find her niece's killer.

"I don't think they deserve to live," Holt said. "I don't think there's anything worse that a person can do – to kill a child and dump her in the dump like a piece of trash?"

Justino wouldn't talk about what evidence police have recovered, or whether investigators believe the crime was committed by one or more people. She said police have questioned more than 70 registered sex offenders in the area, and that process was continuing. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show 161 offenders live in a 5-mile radius of Somer's home.

Two deputies stood guard at mother Diena Thompson's home early Thursday morning. It appeared to be full of supporters. An oak tree across the street was decorated with flowers, candles and pictures of Somer.

"This has been so unreal for the neighborhood," said Sharon Galloway, who lives across the street from the Thompsons. "I just hope they get that son of a gun."