Chief of Police Mike Empey says he'd love nothing more than to ease public fears over the slaying of a 3-year-old girl.
"But we can't. It's just too premature to say this wasn't a stranger-abduction," he said Thursday. "Hopefully, in a few days, we'll know more definitively."A detective working the case agreed. "There are some points of this that indicate it wasn't a stranger abduction but we're not ruling that out. We haven't eliminated anybody or any theory," said Lt. Richard Peterson.
Courtney Jo Flemal was reported missing Saturday by her mother, who told police the toddler disappeared from Liberty Park. Searchers found her body three days later beneath some bushes at the city's cemetery.
An initial autopsy lists no cause of death but determined the child had not been sexually abused. Medical examiners and detectives are waiting for toxicology reports before saying how she died, Empey said.
Police haven't arrested any suspects but questioned several acquaintances of Shelly Flemal, Courtney's mother, after the body was found. "We don't want to get tunnel vision and miss a possibility that could lead to an arrest," the chief said.
Detectives still have not corroborated the mother's story, finding no witnesses who can place Shelly Flemal and her daughter at Liberty Park on Saturday, he said.
Meanwhile, residents living near the park and those far away fear for the safety of their children and grandchildren.
"I have a son the same age as that little girl. I can tell you that I hold his hand everywhere we go now," said Billi Thornock, who lives on the city's east bench. "My baby sitter took him to a park up here today and I worried about it every second."
Don Peterson has 10 grandchildren and lives a half-block from the cemetery and two blocks from Liberty Park.
"We watch them very close when they're visiting. All of our neighbors do that," he said. His neighborhood was among the first searched Saturday night after police received the report.