Salt Lake City police are now convinced a 6-year-old girl who was found in a canal of the Jordan
River early Sunday was a victim of foul play."It's clearly a homicide. There are just too many circumstances that don't add up," said Capt. Norman Thompson.
Detectives were suspicious about events surrounding the girl's death from the beginning and intensified their investigation Monday morning after the state medical examiner determined the girl was killed, he said.
"The autopsy results were pretty clear. We can't say much more about it," Thompson said.
He could not provide specific details about how Rosie Tapia died or whether she was sexually assaulted.
"I can tell you that we strongly suspect she didn't go out that window by herself, and she didn't get into the water by herself," Thompson said.
Tapia was found Sunday morning, her body floating in the surplus canal. Her mother, Lewine, told police she'd last seen her daughter about 2:30 a.m., when she checked on the girl and her twin siblings as they slept in their beds.
"I gave each of them a kiss, closed the window and went to bed," Lewine Tapia said. "At 5:30 a.m., something woke me up. I just got this funny feeling."
She first noticed the door to thechildren's bedroom was closed. The door is always left open and the bathroom light on in case the children need to get up at night, she said.
When the woman looked in the room, she realized her daughter
"The window was wide open. The blinds were down (off the rafters) and the curtain was parted aside," she said. "I screamed her name."
Next, she woke everybody up and called the police. Relatives arrived at the family's apartment, 1601 W. Snow Queen Place (1675 South), and they constructed fliers with the girl's picture to distribute.
"Together with the family, we did an all-out search of the neighborhood," Salt Lake police Lt. Phil Kirk said.
About 10 a.m., a man jogging with his dog reported seeing a body floating in a surplus canal of the Jordan River near 1900 W. 1200 South, Kirk said. While the canal is five blocks from the Tapia apartment, the girl's body was found some two miles from the apartment complex. Police and fire crews pulled the body from the water and identified it as that of the missing girl.
She was still clothed, and there were no obvious signs of the scrapes or bruises that could have indicated a struggle, Kirk said. The autopsy Monday will determine how the girl died and may offer investigators clues as to how she traveled from the bed she shared with siblings to the depths of the canal.
The Tapia's apartment faces 1700 South. The window screen of the children's bedroom had been torn from the top down.
The night of the incident, eight people, including Rosie, were at home, but none heard anything.
Police are unclear how the girl turned up outside the home. Her parents suspect foul play, pointing to an incident Saturday where a stranger brought Rosie home after she was injured.
"Rosie would never have climbed out the window," her mother said. "She would never go outside without telling us first."
Emilia Elizondo, Lewine's 18-year-old daughter who babysits the children, said Saturday evening Rosie was playing on the apartment complex playground with her younger siblings. A boy hit her and a stranger brought her home. The man looked about 30 years old.
"He looked nervous, kind of stuttered and spoke real low," Emilia said. She saw him carrying Rosie. She opened the apartment door and the man explained what had happened at the playground. She took Rosie from him.
"He said `Bye Rosie,' " Emilia said. "I asked Rosie how he knew her name, but Rosie said, `I don't know, I didn't tell him.' "
Emilia said neighbors have seen a man of similar description watching kids play at the playground. She had not seen him until that evening.
Emilia put the kids to sleep at 11:30 p.m. She stayed up until almost 3 a.m., after her mother arrived home.
Emilia also said Rosie could not have crawled out the window: "She would have had to push the screen from the inside, but it (the screen) had been torn down from outside."