Police: Decomposed Body Is Missing Teen

Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010  |  Updated 5:25 PM PDT
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Authorities identified a decomposed body Wednesday as that of a 17-year-old girl who was likely kidnapped while walking home from school last week in Southern California.

Authorities identified a decomposed body Wednesday as that of a 17-year-old girl who was likely kidnapped while walking home from school last week in Southern California.

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A body found in east Moreno Valley was identified Wednesday as a 17-year-old girl who was abducted on her way to a friend's house last week.

Norma Angelica Lopez disappeared Thursday morning after finishing a summer class at Valley View High School and taking a shortcut through a field, en route to a residence in the 27300 block of Cottonwood Avenue, about 2 1/2 miles from where her body was located.

"The investigation has changed from an abducted person to a homicide," Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Joe Borja said during a news briefing outside the Moreno Valley Police Department. "We haven't stopped investigating every lead since we were first notified of the abduction. We will continue to follow every lead we have."

The body, found just before 3 p.m. Tuesday in high grass off Theodore Street, near Dracaea Avenue, could not immediately be identified, and investigators relied on dental records to confirm it was Norma's, said Borja. 

A property owner doing outdoor work on his tractor spotted the remains. The area where they were found is remote, with few houses. A commercial development lies about a half-mile from the site, across from a farming operation.

"That area was going to be searched eventually," said Borja.

He confirmed another crime victim's remains were found in the same general location within the last year, but did not get into the circumstances of that case.

Borja would not disclose how Norma died, or whether she was sexually assaulted, noting it was "very vital" to keep the information under wraps for the sake of the investigation.

He urged parents to be vigilant and ensure their children's safety.

"There's a murderer out there. Keep track of your children," the sergeant said. "It's probably our worst nightmare that our kids can be taken from the street and killed."

He asked that Norma's immediate family be left alone and given time to grieve.

The missing girl's belongings were found on the trail she was using, suggesting a struggle, according to Borja.

A green sport utility vehicle was seen speeding away from the area around the time of her disappearance. Borja said investigators would still like to know who was in the vehicle -- even just to rule the occupants out as suspects.

A $35,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for killing the girl.

Anyone with information was urged to call 877-242-4345 or visit the Moreno Valley Police Department's website.

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