By Calvin Palmer
Authorities have tentatively confirmed that the body of a child found in a Georgia landfill is that of a Florida girl who went missing on her walk home from school on Monday.
Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said the tentative identification was based on clothing and on a birthmark that matched seven-year-old Somer Thompson, of Orange Park.
An autopsy was being performed Thursday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Savannah to confirm the identity and establish the cause of death.
At a news conference today, Beseler said: “There is a child killer on the loose and that’s why we’re going to catch this person and bring him to justice. This is a heinous crime that’s been committed. I fear for our community until we bring this person in.”
The body was found yesterday at a landfill just across the Florida state line in Folkston, Georgia, after investigators followed garbage trucks leaving the Jacksonville suburb where the child disappeared. Detectives spotted the legs first and found the body partially covered by garbage.
Beseler refused to discuss what evidence police have recovered, or whether investigators believe the crime was committed by one or more people.
He 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.
Beseler credited one of his detectives with suggesting on Tuesday that the landfill be checked. Trucks were scheduled to pick up garbage in Orange Park on Tuesday morning.
“Had we not done this tactic, I believe that body would have been buried beneath hundreds of tons of debris, probably would have gone undiscovered forever,” he said.
Even if the body had been found later, key evidence could have been destroyed or degraded, the sheriff added.
Two deputies stood guard at mother Diena Thompson’s home early today. 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.”
Somer’s father, Sam Thompson, lives in Graham, North Carolina.