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Vigil held for Norma Lopez; killer at large

July 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Authorities identified a decomposed body Wednesday as that of 17-year-old Norma Lopez who disappeared last week in Moreno Valley. Her body was discovered Tuesday afternoon about 2.5 to 3 miles from where she was last seen. At a news conference Wednesday, Riverside County Sheriff's Sgt. Joe Borja said Lopez was identified through dental records, adding that a homicide investigation is in progress.

Borja said the body was discovered in a rural field near trees by a local resident doing yard work Tuesday afternoon.

"There's a resident that lived on the street. He was doing some maintenance yard work in the field. The property actually belonged to him, and he observed it as he was doing the yard work," said Borja.

Lopez, 17, disappeared last Thursday. Police said she was on her way home after summer school at Valley View High School in Moreno Valley.

They believe she was walking through a vacant lot that she used as a shortcut, and that she was abducted based on signs of a struggle in the area. Items belonging to Lopez were found near where she was last seen. Authorities would not identify the found items, citing the ongoing investigation.

"We haven't caught the suspect who killed Norma, so obviously there's at least a murderer out there. And so I would be vigilant, be aware, if I was a parent. I would keep track of my children," said Borja.

Borja said it was unknown whether the girl was taken by an acquaintance or a stranger. Her boyfriend had been interviewed and was not a suspect, Borja said.

Police and the FBI have not identified a suspect and have asked the public for help in the investigation.

Authorities were seeking the driver of a green SUV seen driving away from Lopez's last location around the approximate time of her disappearance.

The decomposed body, shirtless and clad in jeans, was found face-down in a grove of trees. A Moreno Valley resident made the gruesome discovery near Dracaea Avenue and Theodore Street about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The location is 2.5 to 3 miles east of Lopez's home and the site of her disappearance. Borja said the official search had not yet expanded to that point before the body was discovered.

Authorities would not indicate whether Lopez was sexually assaulted. Nor would they go into the condition of her body.

If there is DNA evidence present, it could take up to a week to identify.

The Lopez family has been at home all day ever since receiving the news from the sheriff's department. A deputy was stationed in front of the family house, keeping people away to maintain the family's privacy.

A candlelight vigil was held at Valley View High School from Wednesday evening. Attendees wore white clothing and to brought candles.

They prayed for the quick capture of the killer at large.

"Please, just don't hurt another child," said Melanie Villareal, the victim's friend. "Turn yourself in, make a better life for yourself. You still have time to live, but unfortunately, Norma doesn't."

There is a $35,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

If you'd like to contribute to the reward fund, you can request to donate to the fund at Wells Fargo banks.

Anyone with information related to the case is urged to call the Moreno Valley Police Department hotline designated for this case at (877) 242-4345 or e-mail the Riverside County Sheriff's Department at findnormaskiller@riversidesheriff.org.


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