Police vet more than 1,000 tips in girl’s death
ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Children played in a bounce house Sunday at a fundraiser for the family of a slain 7-year-old girl, while the adults watching carefully nearby vowed to find the girl’s killer and raise money so her mother doesn’t have to go back to work immediately.
Somer Thompson’s name and photo were everywhere at the carnival-like fundraiser, which was held in a tree-lined park in the town’s center. A silent raffle, a bake sale and even glittery makeovers for little girls were offered to help the family of Somer, who went missing after school Monday. Her body was found in a Georgia landfill Wednesday.
“I’ve been crying since day one,” said Amanda Wendorff, a co-organizer of the fundraiser. “When it’s a child, it just touches a community.”
Wendorff, the wife of a Clay County Sheriff’s deputy, has four children of her own. She urged people at the carnival to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious — underscoring the fear that is running deep in the community.
Meanwhile, detectives from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are combing through tips: more than 1,150 calls from people around the U.S. have poured in regarding the little girl.
So far, no one has come forward to say they saw the girl abducted or attacked. Investigators have ruled out all 161 registered sex offenders who lived within a 5-mile radius of Somer’s home.
Thompson’s mother, Diena Thompson, has praised the hard work of investigators.
“These detectives — excuse my language — are busting their (expletive) to find it. Because it’s an it,” Diena Thompson said Saturday, referring to the killer of her daughter.
When reached by The Associated Press by phone Sunday, Thompson declined an interview.
“I don’t want to think about doing any news until after I bury my baby,” she said.
A public viewing and funeral are planned for Monday and Tuesday, but graveside services and the burial will be private.
Dozens of mourners and supporters have held nightly vigils outside the Thompsons’ home. They have gathered around a huge makeshift memorial of Hannah Montana balloons, stuffed animals and candles that have burned so long that the wax has melted into the grass.
“I’m shocked that this could happen in this type of community,” Somer’s maternal great-grandmother, Marie Spires of New Richmond, Ohio, said Saturday. “And that no one would see or hear anything.”
An autopsy has been completed and investigators know how Somer died, but authorities won’t disclose their findings or any details about the body.
Spires said she doesn’t know how the little girl died.
Family and friends described Somer as a friendly little girl who rode her scooter around the neighborhood.
“She never met a stranger. She was very friendly,” said Robert O’Cain, a neighbor. “She was always looking for other kids to play with.”
Tina Justyna said her daughter, 11, would often go to the library with Somer at school — and the pair would look at books about kittens and puppies. Her daughter is devastated that Somer is gone, she said.
“I don’t let her watch the news,” Justyna said. “She lost one of the few friends she had.”